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It’s expected that the people leading an institution with the scope of Ohio State will be well compensated.

What is less expected, though, is that those administrators on average make several times the amount an average faculty member makes, and more than their peers at comparable universities.

Gene Smith formally joined the ranks of those administrators this year.

Smith, OSU’s athletic director, was given the additional title of vice president and granted a four-year contract extension with a pay raise Jan. 28. His contract is now set to expire June 30, 2020, and his base salary is $940,484, up from $840,484 in 2013.

He can now be considered one of the top administrators at OSU as a member of the Senior Management Council — a group of 17 people that “propose new policies or revisions to current policies … (and) determines if an issue needs to be addressed by a policy or a rule,” according to an OSU website.

Smith, though, said in January it was a “formalizing” of his existing duties.

“I wanted to have an opportunity to see the vision that all of us have in the athletic department come to fruition and that takes stability. (OSU Interim President) Joe (Alutto) was kind enough to listen and forward me that opportunity,” Smith said in an interview with The Lantern Jan. 29.

But the step was made both for public purposes and solidifying a grasp on Smith’s talents it seems — Alutto said in February Smith was partially promoted for his role in negotiating OSU’s private contracts with companies like Nike Inc., which has an 11-year, $46 million contract with OSU.

“He’s been very active in helping us negotiate some of our infinity agreements that have brought revenues that have allowed us to support students to give additional scholarships and so what I wanted to do, and I think that the university trustees agreed, is that we want to expand that responsibility and use his talents even more than we have in the past,” he said in an interview with The Lantern Feb. 11.

That’s a concept that OSU applies to a lot of its officials, Alutto said.

“With this question of ‘how does a university capitalize to the greatest extent possible on the different attributes of our leaders?’ and they all have different sets of skills and you’re constantly looking to place the individual in the right position to take for the university to take advantage of those skills,” he said.

OSU football coach Urban Meyer might be another good representation of what taking advantage of skills can look like on a paycheck. Meyer is the highest-paid public employee in the state of Ohio, taking home almost $3 million total in fiscal year 2013, which Alutto said is merely a reality, as OSU competes “in different markets for different skill levels.”

It is perhaps the same logic that’s been used for years in expanding the Senior Management Council and shifting the responsibilities of various administrators, as OSU and the U.S. higher education system as a whole move into an era where tuition rises, professors get cut and yet some salaries continue to grow ever more bloated.

But as some argue that increase is only natural, others said they think universities are on a bad path. OSU, meanwhile, pays its administrative officials a significant amount more than some comparable universities.

So how does OSU compare?


The comparison

Though administrative structures across U.S. universities differ, similarities still exist. There is almost always someone at the head of it all, be the position called chancellor or president, and there are people heading departments the university particularly values who are called upon to weigh in on key conversations.

While there are records representing pieces of what these top administrators do, including travel expenses and performance reviews, contrasting their compensations with those in similar positions at comparable universities provides a way to see how OSU is attempting to hold on to its administrators as it looks to break into the top tier of U.S. universities.

And looking at seven areas and their leaders at 10 other universities — provosts, academic affairs, research, general counsel, finance, athletics and communication — it seems OSU’s leaders are making out pretty well financially.

The average compensation of the person at the head of those departments at OSU (keeping in mind that Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph Steinmetz functions as both provost and head of academic affairs, so there are only six people factored in) is more than $554,350.

In comparison, the administrators in charge of those areas at OSU make more than the respective officials at all 10 other universities in four of the seven areas, only including officials who are considered to be at the top of the school’s administrative structure.

Those other universities — Arizona State University, University of Central Florida, Texas A&M University, University of Texas, Michigan State University, University of Michigan, University of Florida, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin and Indiana University — were chosen for size and U.S. News and World Report ranking, which can be considered a measure of academic reputation.

Only two of the schools have more administrators in a group comparable to OSU’s Senior Management Council: Minnesota with 18 people on its executive team and Arizona State with 22 university provosts and deans and 13 vice presidents.

The school with the next highest average pay of administrators within its top council that lead any of those seven areas is Michigan, with an average of $449,907 — about $104,450 less than OSU’s average.

Alutto said those elevated salaries make OSU competitive.

“For each appointment we make, we engage in market analyses and comparisons, and we certainly need to be competitive to attract the very best people here,” he said in an interview with The Lantern March 31. “So I would make the assumption, for everything I have seen, that we are competitive.”


The criticism

Allan Silverman, an OSU philosophy professor and a former faculty chair for University Senate, said from what he has seen, OSU is paying more for administrators now than it did seven years ago, contributing in part to a lack of academic progress. He said OSU needs to attract more faculty personnel.

“If Ohio State is interested in being a better academic institution, there are only two ways of accomplishing that: growing the size of the faculty and paying the faculty more,” Silverman said. “Columbus is now a good place to be … We can attract people in a way that we perhaps couldn’t 30 years ago, but right now we’re struggling.”

OSU ranked No. 37 in average faculty salary among Association of American Universities schools for the 2012-13 academic year with a $110,350 average, according to a University Senate document.

Silverman said the average pay of some OSU administrators is put into perspective when comparing the figure with the base salary of incoming OSU President Michael Drake — $800,000.

“This is the mentality that’s set in, we’ll just keep drilling as if the administrators can make us a better university,” he said.

In fact, after his raise, Gene Smith makes more than Drake will, earning a $940,484 base salary.

Silverman also pointed to the U.S. News and World Report as one way of measuring whether OSU has improved academically.

In 2007, OSU was ranked No. 19 of the nation’s best public universities. Six years later, in 2013, OSU was ranked No. 16 on the same list, only three spots higher.

“We’re spending a lot of money on administrators, and you can ask yourself, what is the reputational bang for the buck gain that we’ve gotten for it?” Silverman said.

The director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for College Affordability and Productivity said administrative hiring and pay have gotten out of hand at OSU.

“Colleges have kind of lost their way and they’ve lost sense of their primary mission. They have two primary missions … First is instruction, the people who are enrolled at a university,” said Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University. “Secondly they have a mission of doing research.

“What is not a core mission is hiring dozens and dozens of non-instructional bureaucrats to allegedly assist the chief administrators … Ohio State should not be condemned on that for being different but I do think it’s just gotten out of hand. Some of it has been justified with increase complexity of rules and regulations on universities.”

Former Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp said in some instances, the administrators deserve their salaries.

“Based on some of these individuals you’ve highlighted, they’ve got a very unique role,” Stepp said. “Given what Ohio State is, you should expect that the individuals running it should be compensated well.”

Stepp said, though, he does think the times call for a refreshed outlook.

“We as an institution need to take a step back and think about what our mission really is here, and our mission is to be the people’s university of the state of Ohio,” he said. “I’m not saying that just administrative salaries are the issue, there are a number of things that we are prioritizing over our educational responsibility.”


The nationwide trend

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting recently reported that from 1987 until the 2011-12 academic year, “the number of administrators and professional staff (at U.S. colleges and universities) has more than doubled,” adding that the rate of increase was more than twice the increase in the number of students.

Alutto said he’s noticed that trend of swelling, but doesn’t find it problematic, crediting it in part to the government adding more “reporting requirements” that require additional staff members.

“It’s a tension that’s built into every university,” he said in an interview with The Lantern March 31. “Part of the pattern over the last few years, certainly the last 20 years or so, is to provide levels of support that we haven’t seen in the past for faculty and for students …  all of those require the hiring of non-faculty, which are classified as staff.”

He added, though, it’s important to keep an eye on administrative growth.

“If you’re not careful about it, you come to a point where you’re investing in many support activities but not in the instruction of students and the growth of students through research, which really ultimately is our goal,” he said.

Meanwhile, Steinmetz said he, too, has noticed a pattern after studying the issues for a few years, but he said there is a reason behind the growth.

“What’s required today in a university, to run a university, is much different than what it was even 10 years ago,” he said in an interview with The Lantern April 1.

Steinmetz cited examples like the opening of new facilities like the RPAC and the Ohio Union, which require additional administrative members to be able to operate.

Steinmetz added, however, he has his own hesitations about the trend of growing administrations.

“My concern, since I represent the academic mission of the university, is that we never cross the line that it’s drawing away from the resources that we really need to teach students and for the student experience. We’re not there at Ohio State,” he said.


This story is the sixth in a series about Ohio State’s administrators, including travel expenses and performance reviews over the last two years. The series was made possible by the generosity of Ohio State and The Lantern alumna Patty Miller. 


A look at some of OSU’s administrators: