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Ohio State holds onto administrators with ‘competitive’ compensation


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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:


  1. Gene Smith asking and taking a bonus for a wrestlers accomplishment is a shame

    He should return the money and be willing to have a new contract under a new system when Drake arrives. He should be pad much less than the President who is managing a $5 billion dollar budget.

    The person paid to run student life is paid $1 million dollars less and has more staff and more budget resources.

    Look at our ranking in the directors cup. Ohio State is in the 20’s and programs with smaller budgets are accomplishing more. You will find a number of big ten programs at the top of the list….Ohio State is not.

    Gene Smith should step up and be a leader and be the first to slash his salary!

  2. How does someone get a $100,000 raise for “foramilzing existing duties” Would that not cover 10 student tuitions this year?

  3. Administrator salaries are far out of proportion to their responsibilities. While I believe in the free enterprise system, one should not go into education to become filthy rich. All this does is teach our students that greed and the pursuit of wealth is the sole purpose of their education. If an administrator is worth a million dollars a year, than primary school teachers and firefighters should be earning $10 million dollars per year.

  4. OSU is not competitive outside these admins when it comes to salary

  5. OSU doesn’t prioritize education. Less than half of the classes at OSU are taught by full-time faculty; the rest are taught by grad students (very low-paid compared to comparable universities’ grad students, especially Michigan’s), adjuncts, and lecturers. These people make about 20k a year, if that. So while you’re paying top dollar for little Tyler to go to OSU, know that VERY LITTLE of that money is going to his classroom instruction, or to ensure an equitable living wage for his teachers. If you’re wondering why classes aren’t great at OSU (and way too large), it’s because the instructors are living in poverty. I wouldn’t mind supporting the amount OSU spends on administration–if only OSU could pay a living wage to its stable of exploited instructors. Of all the comparable schools in Ohio, OSU is hands down the WORST when it comes to this sort of thing.

    Percentage of credit hours taught by full-time instructors by university in 2010:

    Miami University: 81%
    Ohio University: 69%
    University of Cincinnati: 70%
    Ohio State University: 44%

    I refuse to donate a dime to OSU until they start to hire more full-time faculty with respectable middle-class salary packages. (Most starting faculty make only about 50k anyway–compare that to any administrator’s salary.) Any alum who donates these days is not just stupid but also supporting a very corrupt system. Would never send my kids there.

  6. You get that kind of quote from Taylor Stepp because the same administrators have worked hard to squirrel him away in their pockets.
    That’s also why you’ve seen almost no actual effective advocacy come out of USG in years… they are groomed quite well by their administrative handlers to avoid ever being criticized by the student population.
    Now, go ask our other student leaders what they think about this and maybe you’ll get a real answer, not a political answer from a future Kasich employee.
    You are an embarrassment to your consistency, Taylor.
    If this is where you really think OSU should be pouring it’s money, then good riddance.

    Time for the undergrads to wake up and do something about this inequity.
    OSU is rated on the quality of its teaching, not its administration.
    Good luck explaining to a future employer that you were taught by tenured faculty maybe a quarter of the time, but, hey, Gene Smith did a nice job, tough… right?

  7. When student are graduating with record debt and then face difficulty obtaining employment once they obtain their degrees, it is clear that this level of runaway spending at the highest level of a public institution is a MORAL issue. Dr. Drake is not part of the decision making that led us to this point. Let’s hope that he recognizes the importance of this issue and changes things.

  8. This is a good series, but it’s a shame that it won’t do anything to change the status quo, which benefits too many powerful people. People have been noting the disparities between admin and faculty/staff salaries for a while (as well as the near-crippling tuition hikes that students have had to deal with), but nothing ever changes. When it comes down to it, a lot of people out there have this inexplicable devotion to OSU. There are a lot of “OSU apologists” out there. One must never criticize OSU, one must always genuflect at the altar of OSU, OSU is so big that the people running it deserve their salaries, it’s not OSU’s fault but the state legislature’s, blah blah blah.

    So undergrads should ask themselves: has this kind of runaway spending on “development” and “administration” improved your quality of life/education at OSU? Has it held your tuition steady? Provided more scholarships to needy students? Given you opportunities you wouldn’t have had otherwise? Have you seen this “fundraising” make any difference in your own ability to finance your education? Has it really improved OSU’s reputation? (No, it hasn’t. #52 school in the country still isn’t anything to write home about.)

    Other Ohio schools, even the private ones (especially the private ones), managed to do a lot more during the recession with a lot less. They’re ranked better, give better scholarships, and equip students for the job market. And they don’t have an administrator class that rakes in seven-figure salaries.

    OSU isn’t the only school in Ohio. For those thinking about going here: do your homework carefully. For those already here: think about transferring.

  9. Excellent set of articles.

    It is concerning this cancer is spreading among the colleges and departments within OSU.

    It is very common event that people within “old-boy” network receive resources and salary raises in spite of their mediocre performance.

    May it is time major national media such as Washington Post or New York Time to step forward and run story on OSU?

  10. Faithful Faculty Member

    As I finish up my 26th year at OSU, I read this article today with great frustration. Administrators come and go, hidden behind closed doors, while there are many “out there” faculty who are in this for the long haul, working with thousands of students over our careers, conducting substantial research, are deeply involved in community outreach and service, all the while working extremely hard to educate and advise both undergraduate and graduate students. Our salaries for the most part, remain stagnant and barely keep up with inflation. We are undervalued and underpaid.

    Should my salary be based on my performance with students, or my ability to attract corporate funds in the continuing capitalization of OSU? Why is my salary not raised after my annual review when my duties are realigned and my Chair realizes that I am working 60 hours a week with 5 additional bullet points added to my responsibilities?

    And who evaluates those administrators who do NOT perform their jobs adequately to justify their salaries that are so much more than mine?

    My time here at OSU has been wonderful. But I wish there was more action by the upper administration to put their money where their mouths are and reward the hard working and successful faculty who are the true backbone of this great institution.

  11. This article should address how much administrators in Student Life are paid. It is absolutely ridiculous the salaries that some of these administrators receive, which are not commiserate with their level of education, or the work required for their job.

  12. These articles have been excellent. If I were a reporter I would look into the hiring freeze going on at the Medical Center. While all of the administrators are making big money, the medical center is in the midst of a hiring freeze and departments are asked to cut their budgets by millions of dollars.

  13. Is this a revelation to anyone?
    Ohio State has been The University of Enron for years.

    If you want some real fun, look into the nepotism at the top. Start with names like Alutto, Shumate and Kessler. Find out where the family works. Look at spouses and children and who married who. See if there were legitimate searches for positions. (Stay away from divorce records. People get really touchy about that stuff.)

    If anyone is surprised by the pay giveaway, it is actually the most public and honest part of the corruption story. The nepotism is really ugly.

    There is so much more fun you student journalists could be having!?!? Find out about Gordon Gee’s association with Skull and Bones, and see if he hired any brothers?

    If the tenured faculty were only values driven… Unfortunately, the best you will get as a reaction to your reporting from OSU’s version of “shared governance” is some feigned outrage between sips of chardonnay. You are learning from a collection of epicureans.

    A few years ago it became painfully apparent that the average SAT score of the student body was now higher than the SAT of the faculty at Ohio State. This correlates with moral reasoning well enough.

    Go Bucks!!!

    PS. Find out the salaries of Ohio State administrators the year before coming to Ohio State. This will clue you in on the “loyalty” and not the “excellence” that Gee was buying with taxpayer and tuition money.

  14. Twenty years as a minor administrator at OSU. Never cracked the old-boy network. OSU is a business, plain and simple, for sale to the highest bidder.

  15. So terrible! Some make so high salaries which they don’t deserve!!Some are without salaries after get federal funds for the Univ.

  16. Ghost of Walt Seifert

    Good luck to the graduates. Hope you enjoyed Joe Steinmetz’s speaker.

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