President, chancellors are highest paid Alaska employees

Being a civil servant isn’t all bad. Perks in Alaska can include a six-figure salary, free housing and a vehicle – if you have time to use them in between your paid trips around the U.S., and to England, Germany and Austria.

Despite that, university officials say a request for proposals now going out to examine the executive salary rates throughout the university is not because they are too high and that it is merely a routine look at procedures.

“We’ve got an RFP out right now to examine executive salaries and to find out the best way to adjust them,” UA spokeswoman Kate Ripley said. “Part of the problem is that our executive salary grid is sort of out of date.”

But Carl Shepro, president of United Academics Local 4996, a faculty union, said faculty salaries at the university – which average around $50,000 – are falling behind those of the executives, and that fact could ultimately wind up affecting the quality of the faculty.

“Regardless of what the amount is, executive salaries are certainly out of proportion to what the faculty make,” Shepro said. “We need to keep pace with what faculty make Outside, and we’re certainly falling behind.”

Five of the 10 highest-paid state government officials in Alaska work for the University of Alaska, according to a Jan. 31 report on executive salaries prepared by the state’s Department of Administration.

The highest-paid executive is UA President Mark Hamilton, who was paid $365,750 in 2006, including a $100,000 bonus for staying at the university through the year. That doesn’t include the raise that the UA Board of Regents approved for him in December. That increase, which brings his base salary to nearly $300,000, puts it at about 10 percent below the national average of $331,000, which James Johnsen, statewide vice president for administration, said is the target rate for executive positions at the university.

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“The university sets its own salaries,” said Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, who sits on the House Finance Committee. “Unless there’s something really egregious, I don’t think there is a reason for the Legislature to step in.”

For the most part, Alaska’s salaries are not too shockingly high compared to the salaries of executives in other states, Gara said, though there have been a few exceptions.

“Some of the salaries I’ve seen have made me blink,” he said, though he declined to say whose. “I’m going to bite my tongue on that.”

UAF Chancellor Steve Jones is third on the top-10 list with a salary of $249,086, while UAA Chancellor Elaine Maimon came in sixth with $214,370. Both also get free housing and a vehicle on the university’s dime, as does Hamilton. UAS Chancellor John Pugh is 10th on the list with $182,406. Pugh gets only a free vehicle because there is no campus housing available to him in Juneau.

In comparison, former Gov. Frank Murkowski earned $82,779 during 2006. But that margin between salaries is not uncommon, said Gebeyehu Ejigu, executive vice chancellor of administrative services at UAA.

“There is no state in the country where the governor’s salary is not significantly lower than the university president’s,” Ejigu said.

The reason the chancellors of the different campuses have varying salaries is because of the complexity of their work; it is not based upon the size of the school, Johnsen said.

“Fairbanks is a research university, and it’s a more competitive market,” Johnsen said. “Anchorage is in a different market segment, and it is not as competitive. That’s not to say that UAA doesn’t have some of that research, but it’s not even close in scale.”

Johnsen said there is not a problem with the salaries themselves, and the university is not seeking to change them. It simply wants to ensure that its process of determining salary levels is appropriate because the salary-generation process has not undergone such an inspection since he has been here – in more than a decade.

“We want an outside look at how we set executive salaries,” Johnsen said. “It’s not so much what they are, but the methodology of how we set them. There’s nothing broken.”

The university sets its executive salaries upon initial hire by comparing the median salaries reported in a market survey of similar institutions, and then targeting the salaries at 10 percent below the median. Beyond that, executive salaries are adjusted every year on a market-driven system, Johnsen said.

Here’s how it works: The amounts of all of the university executives’ salaries are pooled together. Of that total, 2.6 percent is the amount used to adjust the salaries. From there, each individual’s salary is evaluated to determine whether it is at or below market levels, and the money is spread around to ensure each position is paid near the national median rate. Any money that is left over goes toward merit pay for those who deserve it.

One issue with the system is that there aren’t many executives in the university, Johnsen said, and the small pool could be a hit for the university during the examination.

But Shepro said the problem with executive salaries in general is that they are based on industry rates of what people would be making in the private sector, though faculty salaries are not. And despite the fact that faculty salaries here have been improving with recent contracts, there is still a long way to go.

“Overall, we’re at the bottom fifth nationally,” Shepro said.