Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Public salaries 

The St. Cloud Times undertook a project to study state employee salaries. Their data center provides a searchable database that you can use to look anyone up, including me if you wish. (They also provide a separate database for the University of Minnesota -- when I see what my colleagues in the U's economics department who are about my age make, ugh!)

A two-part story began Sunday with a look at overtime pay to state employees, with $50 million paid in 2007 out of a $2.58 billion payroll. The public-sector unions of course claim this is due to too few public sector workers, while critics like Phil Krinkie and Craig Westover highlighted the demand for public-sector employees being driven up by greater regulation. But most interesting was the table that appeared in the print story (though not on the website that I can see) of the top 10 salaries in the state. Tops is MnSCU Chancellor James McCormack, who earns over $350,000. Second, though, was an SCSU professor who earned over $250,000; another on the faculty here was near $22ok. By comparison, Gov. Pawlenty gets $120,303 as salary for being governor.

What's up with that? The second part looks at the pay rate for teaching online courses. Here it's pretty simple: Most courses are 3 credits, and for each student in such an online class you get $195. That is not part of one's regular salary but paid on top. And, unlike teaching an extra course in the classroom, you get more, the more students who register. And, there's no limit contractually on how many of these you can do. (Teaching overloads for lecture classes are capped in the contract, and the cap is only lifted in emergency cases, largely so that opportunities are spread around a department more evenly.) Both of those two SCSU faculty in the top ten are providers of online classes.

The article identifies 10,400 seats in online courses. If we assume they were all three-credit classes, that's more than $2 million annually paid to those faculty, not peanuts on a campus with about a $140 million budget, of which about half are faculty salaries. But what doesn't get mentioned in that story is that students pay extra for the online course (between $235 and $250 per credit versus $175 for the lecture course.) They aren't just lucrative for the faculty teaching those courses. More is staying in the offices of our continuing studies program.

Hard to say what will happen with this information. It's always been public, and I don't object to the transparency of my own salary. It was part of the agreement to work here. But the scrutiny over the online courses might cause some changes there. Like many universities, ours has taken a serious approach to assessing effectiveness in teaching. One hopes that online courses, like those in our lecture halls, have evidence of student learning. If they do, I don't see why we should have concerns about who gets paid what. And if they don't, it wouldn't matter how much you pay them. You can't find a bargain in bad teaching.

Labels: , ,