Letter to the Editor: Dell’Omo’s base salary doesn’t tell the whole story

The November 4, 2015 Rider News included President Dell’Omo’s correction of the “conspiracies” surrounding the high compensation for Rider’s president in the midst of his proposed program closures and faculty layoffs:

“[at the November 3 open forum] The president addressed rumors about himself when someone asked him about his salary — claiming it was around $800,000 per year. This question earned a thunderous applause from the crowd.

‘It’s a ridiculous statement,’ Dell’Omo said. ‘It’s the way conspiracies develop, where people manipulate the truth for their own gratification. I make $475,000 a year here with the potential for a 30 percent bonus.’ ”

I don’t know the particulars of President Dell’Omo’s contract, but his figure of $475,000 would appear to be his base salary. His total compensation package – what Rider spends on him – is likely much closer to the $800,000 he called ridiculous.

I base this claim on a 2013 Chronicle of Higher Education study that placed the total compensation for Rider’s president second-highest in New Jersey, with only Princeton spending more on its president. The study listed Rider’s former president Mort Rozanski’s total compensation for 2011 at $728,590. That figure – as Gary Shapiro, then chairman of Rider’s board of trustees told NJ.com – included Rozanski’s “$417,000 base salary, a performance bonus, deferred compensation that will be paid when he retires and other benefits, including pension contributions.”[i]

Perhaps President Dell’Omo will offer to forego his 30% bonus to help offset this year’s financial shortfall – just as faculty gave back our raises for this year and next to save the programs he intended to close – but if he earns and keeps that bonus his pay for the year will reach $617,500. Add to that his deferred compensation, pension contributions, health insurance, and housing, and we arrive at the figure Rider will spend this year for our president. (This is not to mention the cost we incurred hiring a search firm to help us hire him, or the cost of renovating his house prior to his arrival.)

I am not splitting hairs. Paying this much for our president is unconscionable when four months after he took office he declared we face a financial crisis so severe that he’d close programs, lay off instructors, and freeze wages and reduce retirement benefits for our clerical employees – the lowest paid workers on campus.

I, like other faculty members, gave back the 2% raise I was promised before Dell’Omo was hired. To keep the programs open and make sure nobody loses their jobs, faculty also agreed to allow Rider’s administration to replace our retiring professors with adjuncts (part-time instructors) rather than tenure-track faculty and to increase the percentage of courses taught by adjuncts. Students should understand what this means: you will pay the same tuition, but Rider will pay your instructors less.

Students unfamiliar with the system of hiring adjuncts to replace tenure-track faculty should read the “Background Facts on Contingent Faculty” on the website of The American Association of University Professors (AAUP): http://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency/background-facts .

The system is by no means unique to Rider, but Rider’s administration now has the option to staff 40% of our courses with adjuncts [and overloads taught by full-time faculty] even while we compensate our top administrators at a rate higher than many schools in our category.

Paying less for instructors affects the quality of teaching. Rider requires the PhD for tenure-track faculty but accepts a Master’s degree for adjuncts. We evaluate adjuncts only on teaching, while tenure-track faculty must consistently publish quality research or creative work that contributes to the subjects they teach. Rider’s tenured faculty members are highly-trained, published, and active in our fields and we bring this expertise to the classroom. Beyond the classroom, our work in our fields helps us bring students unique opportunities for research positions, internships, and jobs. In addition, we are required to serve on campus committees and sponsor student clubs and organizations, not to mention hold regular office hours and meet with students.

Adjuncts work hard (I know – I was an adjunct for several years). Rider employs some fantastic adjuncts (I know – I’ve observed their teaching. That’s another expectation for tenured faculty), and some of them have taught here for decades. A few of them do hold Ph.Ds and a few have published, but when they do that work they do it for free rather than as part of their job description. For the most part, their teaching schedule doesn’t leave time for further training, research or writing, or working with students outside the classroom. The pay is so low that many adjuncts have to teach at multiple universities to make ends meet.

Over-relying on low-paid adjuncts has driven down the cost of instruction even as tuition has doubled at private colleges since 1980. A recent article in The Atlantic proposes, “If you think these tuition increases resulted from an investment in providing a better education for the students in the classroom, consider the growth in administrative staff and administrative pay.”[ii] With so much talk of Rider’s deficit there are a lot of figures flying around. I haven’t seen the exact number for President Dell-Omo’s compensation — somewhere between $475,000 and $800,000 — but I do know that adjuncts at Rider make as little as $4,435 per course taught, and that students should know where their money is going.

 

— Dr. Mickey Hess, Professor of English

 

Partially printed in the 11/18/15 issue.

 

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