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Report: OR Universities Overpay Administrators, Furlough Staff

September 13, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - Too many managers, getting too many raises, at the expense of faculty and support staff. That's the conclusion of a probe into public records of the Oregon University System (OUS) by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503. Its report was released Monday.

The union represents the classified employees, the behind-the-scenes workers on campuses from custodians and secretaries to IT people. The report says at state universities, there is one administrator for every 2.5 workers.

Using university and state figures, SEIU Research Director Paul McKenna says they found administrators are making 23 percent more than faculty members and up to 90 percent more than the people they are supervising — and some are getting raises.

"We see them specifically at U of O (University of Oregon) and PSU (Portland State University), but we think they're probably going on elsewhere too, while classified employees are being asked to take a contract with pay freezes and you know, increased share of benefit costs, and furloughs."

The union released a similar report this past spring, critical of state agencies being top-heavy with managers. It resulted in legislation to bring the ratio into line, at one manager for every 11 workers in a department. McKenna says the universities' ratio is lower than it was in their state agency probe, but the new law doesn't apply to the university system.

The report comes just as OUS classified workers are threatening a strike after eight months of bargaining for a new contract. Marc Nisenfeld, an engineer at PSU who chairs the union's bargaining team, says employees are discouraged by the report, but not surprised.

"At Portland State alone, we had 19 administrators who were already making upwards of $130,000 a year, and they got significant increases. The lack of fairness and the lack of equity is just staggering."

Nisenfeld says the report shows higher education in Oregon isn't doing badly in terms of finances, but is choosing to spend the money on administrative salaries.

"That's what our university system has adopted, is the mold of corporate America, with a president making 90 times what the front-line workers make. You know, it's a public university and these buildings were built with public funds. It's just ludicrous."

OUS schools have said pay increases are necessary to be competitive and keep administrators from seeking other jobs. In addition, other parts of the contract have been agreed on; only the financial aspects are still being debated. The bargaining continues on Wednesday.

The SEIU report, "Holding OUS Accountable: A Question of Priorities," is online at http://bit.ly/nBD361.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR