As a candidate for the MFA in creative nonfiction in my final semester at UNC-Wilmington, I’m barely eking by. So I was shocked to discover Chancellor Jose Sartarelli made over $355,000 a year, plus perks and benefits including a university house and car allowance.
When I make my way across the graduation stage in April, I’ll be doing so burdened with $15,000 in student loan debt after having earned $15,000 a year teaching two classes per semester, while also taking on full-time graduate-level classes and multiple side jobs.
While students are easily ensnared by tuition and fees and leave the university saddled in debt, while adjuncts and grad students work for next to nothing and professors lose their jobs to floundering newbies like me, administrator pay continues to skyrocket, exacerbating an already dire higher ed wealth gap.
Chancellor Sartarelli joined the UNC system in 2015 with a starting salary of $350,000. That same year, other UNC chancellors received hulking pay raises, while university employees and faculty received a one-time bonus of $750 with no raise.
NCSU’s Chancellor Randy Woodson was given a 13% pay raise of $70,000, or the equivalent of 93 professors’ one-time bonuses combined, for a total salary of $590,000. Beyond that, he snagged a 4-year contract complete with a compensation package, annual stipend of $200,000, and “the possibility of performance bonuses.”
That same year, Chancellor Carol Folt of UNC-Chapel Hill jumped from $520,000 to $570,000. The new president of UNC, Margaret Spellings, started with a base salary of $775,000 -- $175,000 more than the previous president. Spellings is also eligible for incentive bonuses based on “performance goals.”
In 2016, the pay raises continued to accumulate for UNC chancellors. Woodson racked up a near-$30,000 pay raise, with a salary jump from $590,000 to $617,376. Folt’s salary jumped from $570,000 to $596,448. UNC President Spellings claimed that these salary increases were “based on what it takes to be competitive to fill these positions, not about a particular individual.”
This isn’t true, though. The University of California in Berkeley, one of the most competitive public universities in the nation, pays its chancellor $531,939. For nearly $100,000 less than Randy Woodson, putting perks aside, Chancellor Carol T. Christ of UC-Berkeley presides over a university of the same enrollment size. US News & World Report ranks UC-Berkeley as #21 in National Universities. NCSU is ranked #81.
If chancellor salaries truly reflected a competitive market, the best universities would pay the highest salaries. They don’t. Chancellor salaries don’t reflect special expertise, either.
Take a look at UC-Berkeley’s Chancellor Christ versus NCSU’s Chancellor Woodson, for example. Christ has 47 years of experience in the university system. Woodson has 34. Christ spent 26 years in leadership positions, including 11 years as a President, before she became Chancellor. Woodson put in 16. In short, Woodson is less experienced than Christ but paid far more. This is true system-wide; his pay and the pay of other UNC chancellors are not reflective of a competitive market or special expertise. Greater chancellors at greater schools are paid far less.
Administrators will tell you this is not just a UNC problem; it is a United States university problem. If one chancellor costs this much, and if others cost over $1 million a year, the entire market is broken and in need of reform. This is true, but we have to start by taking responsibility for ourselves, at our own university.
I’m graduating from UNC-Wilmington soon, and already, I’m receiving emails from Chancellor Sartarelli asking me to join in on the “Chancellor’s Challenge, a special giving opportunity for all upcoming graduates.” The Chancellor promises to match my gift to UNC-Wilmington with his own personal gift to scholarships. I have no money to give.
Instead, I challenge Chancellor Sartarelli, President Margaret Spellings, and all of the UNC chancellors to fix the tarnished reputation of my soon-to-be alma mater. I challenge them to practice transparency by discussing chancellor pay in open session meetings, rather than the closed door sessions they’ve been having. I challenge them to develop a student and faculty review board that must approve all administrative raises, new hires, and new positions. I challenge them to decrease administrative positions and increase academic positions. I challenge them to lower their own salaries and benefits in order to increase the salaries and benefits of professors, adjuncts, and graduate instructors, many of whom have no benefits whatsoever.
UNC and other universities must enact serious reforms, as administrative bloat sincerely threatens the university as a genuinely benevolent and beneficial institution. The reputation of the University of North Carolina is at stake, and it’s on the administrators, not us.
Lauren Krouse is a graduate student and instructor in creative nonfiction at UNC-Wilmington who plans to graduate this spring.