In their quest for support for the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed, professors and administrators at state universities have traditionally looked at Republicans with disdain and pinned their hopes on elected Democrats. But now, even some of their traditional partisan angels are becoming skeptical of their claims of imminent need.
“At the last full Board of Regents meeting in Bozeman in November of 2005, the Board approved substantial salary increases for the commissioner, the two presidents and the four chancellors in order to bring them in line with those salaries made by top administrators in neighboring states,” Montana State University professor Keith Edgerton pointed out to Governor Brian Schweitzer. “Yet this comes in the wake of a number of successive and substantial tuition increases approved by the Board.”
Dr. Edgerton, who teaches history at MSU-Billings, interviewed the Democratic governor for The Montana Professor, a quarterly magazine. The governor viewed the Board of Regents argument with undisguised skepticism.
“So it seems to me that they are proposing to keep the people we have right now,” the governor says. “Are they saying that we have incompetent people running it right now and that if we pay $60,000 more we’d get somebody else? I don’t think they talked about sending anybody down the road, did they?”
The governor, who sports western attire and is nearly always accompanied by his dog, cultivates a populist image. But he is no Zell Miller Democrat and chafes at the state’s taxpayer bill of rights. Nonetheless, the political acumen that enabled him to break a string of Republican victories in the state may serve him well in this showdown with the higher education establishment in Montana.
“These folks are staying and I’m not suggesting that they are not good—I’m not making that point—but clearly we are paying enough money to keep them so I guess my problem with this is what do I say to middle-class kids in Montana when they remind me of this?,” the governor asks. “They remind me: ‘Brian, you gave more money to higher ed and what are they spending it on?”
“Well, they’re giving raises to big shots.” Interestingly, the governor suggests that both over-compensated administrators and so-called rank-and-file professors learn to live within their means. “But the cost of keeping up with the Joneses is less here too,” the governor notes. “And so, I simply don’t buy that we just pick a half dozen people that work in our university system and pay them three quarters of a million dollars more and suddenly, ‘Eureka!,’ Montana becomes a world class university center.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.