The average annual income in North Carolina is just over $40,000. But in September, senior-level bureaucrats in the University of North Carolina system’s General Administration — who take home six-figure salaries — said they needed raises, and they got them. The system’s Board of Governors voted in favor of a salary range increase that will “assure that [UNC] has the ability to match and, when necessary, lead market in compensating hard to recruit or retain executive talent.”
The increases are “designed to [promote] good stewardship of State and University budgetary resources,” according to a statement by the board. Top-level employees in General Administration and across the state’s 16 public universities are among the highest-paid public employees in the state.
For instance, UNC system president Thomas Ross, who heads General Administration, earns $550,000 per year, $30,000 more than the chancellors at UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University (other chancellors in the system earn between $240,000 and $325,000). General Administration employs 68 people who earn more than $100,000 per year, and eight who earn more than $200,000.
But that’s just for starters. The system’s 16 universities employ 47,894 people. Of those employees, 1,039, or 2.17 percent, earn more than $200,000 and 6,243, or 13 percent, earn more than $100,000. The share of UNC employees earning six-figure salaries far outpaces that of other state agencies. Of the 87,364 state employees (from the departments of commerce, transportation, health and human services, and so forth), only 56, or 0.06 percent, earn more than $200,000, and just 1,900, or 2.17 percent, earn more than $100,000.
Examples abound. For instance, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Chief Diversity Officer, Taffye Benson Clayton, earns $195,000 per year, or 38 percent more than Gov. Pat McCrory. Clayton heads the university’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, which hosts campus events, diversity training sessions for students and faculty, and seminars. The office employs 10 full-time employees as well as graduate and undergraduate staff members. Its second- and third-highest paid staffers earn $101,000 and $72,000, respectively.
Similarly, N.C. State’s Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity employs 30 people and has total salary expenditures that exceed $1.85 million annually. Three employees earn more than $100,000 and only two staffers earn less than $40,000. The office includes, among others, a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender center, a Women’s Center, and an African-American cultural center.
Like UNC-Chapel Hill’s diversity and multicultural affairs office, N.C. State’s OIED has a strong “social justice” emphasis. It hosts events and offers students and faculty seminars, workshops, and conferences. In October, for example, the GLBT Center is hosting a workshop titled “Recognizing and Responding to Microaggressions.”
Progressive projects, are not the only areas that offer large salaries to administrators. For instance, East Carolina University’s department of student involvement and leadership, just one branch of the university’s student affairs division (that division’s vice chancellor makes $203,000), employs roughly 30 administrators and has total annual salary expenditures of about $1.6 million. Additionally, the director of UNC-Greensboro’s art museum makes $124,395 each year, and the bookstore manager at Appalachian State University earns $140,448 annually.
There also are at least two policy think tanks within the UNC system with million-dollar salary budgets; the public spends roughly $2.6 million each year to employ 37 people at UNC-Charlotte’s Urban Institute and N.C. State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues. The latter’s director makes $185,289 per year.
Along with administrators who are paid large salaries, the university system hires a lot of administrators. Across the system, universities employ dozens of support specialists, technicians, associates, and executive assistants.
Whenever state leaders float the idea of tightening the system’s budget, university officials claim that students will suffer. During the Great Recession, the UNC system had to manage a $400 million cut. More than 500 vacant faculty positions were eliminated (vacant positions are part of “management flexibility” appropriations), as well as some administrative positions, but degree programs weren’t affected. Today, state appropriations account for roughly 43 percent of the UNC system’s revenue (nationally, that figure averages about 28 percent). As a result, average in-state tuition is lower than that of all neighboring states.
The system is a $9.5 billion public enterprise. The latest UNC salary and administrator data suggest that there are areas to cut costs and improve efficiency.
Jesse Saffron is a senior writer for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy and Jenna Ashley Robinson is the center’s president.