Senate Designates Group to Examine College Wages

Amidst discussions of living wage on campus and the finding that executive wages are overall higher than values estimated by the College’s peer institution benchmark, the faculty senate has begun an examination of wages paid to all College employees.

When establishing salaries and subsequent raises, many academic organizations aim to set their executives’ values around the median of a peer group of institutions, which in the case of St. Mary’s includes 12 other colleges and universities across the country. The idea is that a roughly median salary compared to peer institutions presents a reasonably competitive wage while also not costing the College too much of the annual budget.

“The Board of Trustees tries to go to the median with our peer institutions,” said Vice President for Business and Finance Tom Botzman. “Part of what we do is balance the budget, to show that we’re giving competitive wages.”

The benchmark of comparing St. Mary’s to its peer institutions is a practice done for those at all employment levels, and benchmarks are in place for housekeeping and other staff members through comparison to more local institutions.

“We benchmark [salaries] in many ways,” said Botzman, “and even use local benchmarks for some.”

Over the past decade, many institutions nationwide have shown a seemingly large increase in executive salaries relative to economic success and raises of other faculty and staff members. This includes the College, which in the span of eight years between 2000 and 2008 showed an almost 70% increase in salary among the institution’s top four executives, according to a letter submitted by the faculty senate to the College Board of Trustees in 2009. This represented an increase of $418,166 among those executives over the course of an eight-year period.

Faculty salaries have recently raised to match the benchmark of the College’s peer institutions. But, while increases in executive salaries have not increased as rapidly in the past few years, recently accumulated data indicate that in 2011, several College executives received salaries above the projected benchmark, including four Vice Presidents of the College.

“There’s no pressure downwards on executive salaries,” said Dave Kung, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Faculty Finance Delegate. “This isn’t personal; it’s a similar problem in private sectors, and it’s a structural problem in higher education.”

The problem underlying wage adjustment seems to be sheer numbers. It is more difficult to offer raises for larger groups of employees, including faculty and non-executive staff, than to do so for executives with the same amount of money. The large number of employees at lower levels in an institution creates a natural cap on what is possible in regards to salary increase, one that does not exist as strongly at the executive level. As even peer institutions increase pay for executives or other institutional members, others continue the increase to outbid other institutions. Furthermore, faculty and staff at the College (including executives and administrators) often have a higher-than-average salary based on time spent at the institution.

“People should be compensated for the value they can offer to the institution,” said Botzman.

Currently, the Board of Trustee’s Finance Investment and Audit committee, chaired by John Wobensmith and including Kung, is discussing the issue of balancing the budget, a topic that does not include College member salaries. Raises are awarded mid-year, before and outside of the committee’s discussion of how the budget should be adjusted for College expenses.

“I think the examination indicates a healthy process of inquiry and fact-finding,” said Andrew Reighart, who recently won the majority vote for the SGA presidential election. “Every aspect of the College needs to be looked at in a non-adversarial, forward-thinking manner so we can come to a consensus on how to finance a socially just trajectory for the institution.”

Another difficulty surrounding the issue is that in the past three years, about 130 faculty and staff have not received raises. “I know I’m not a part of it, but it’s unfair,” said Botzman. “The harsh reality is that as we spend more on wages, we can’t spend it elsewhere.”

Through examination of the College executives’ salaries, the faculty senate hopes to address this issue at St. Mary’s to see what the best course of action will be.

“I think we are going to remind the [Board of Trustees] that [executive salary raises are] still a problem,” said Kung. “Runaway executive pay has no place in the community we profess to be.”

By request of the Senate, Kung has designed a council, the Just Wage Group, to continue discussing ways of internally and externally benchmarking salaries at the College. Members include Associate Professor of Spanish José Ballesteros, Assistant Professor of Economics Barbara Beliveau, Director of Career Development Dana Van Abbema, Student Trustee Maurielle Stewart, and Assistant Vice President for Academic Administration Mark Heidrich.

Among other executives at the College whose salaries exist above the peer institution median, President Urgo has accepted a salary below the median during his time at St. Mary’s. Even with a 5% salary increase from 2011 to 2012, Urgo remains below last year’s peer group median (around $335,000). Urgo has also been an advocate for slowing the institutional awarding of merit-based aid, which (if decreased) would provide more revenue for College students while not significantly impacting aid recipients. But, he has yet to advocate for controlling executive salary increase.

While individuals at the College differ in opinion regarding what should happen in result of the examination, the overall view appears to be an approval of the process itself.

“I see the value of the [Board of Trustees] slowing down raises for the [peer institution] median to catch up,” said Botzman. “But, I don’t like the feel of cutting salaries. People should be compensated for the value they offer to the institution, and when you talk about cutting someone’s pay, you’re telling them to go look elsewhere.”

“I’ve heard time and time again that we want to keep the best and brightest administrators here at the College so we can maintain the excellence we’ve come to expect,” said SGA President Mark Snyder. “I heartily agree with that, but is continuously increasing their salaries the only way to do that?”

Other peer institutions to which St. Mary’s compares its salaries are Dickinson College, Southwestern University, Connecticut College, Colorado College, The College of Wooster, Virginia Military Institute, The University of Mary Washington, Gettysburg College, Beloit College, Guilford College, The University of North Carolina Asheville, and the University of Minnesota Morris.

Peer Median (2011)

Salary (2011)

Salary (2012)





VPAA, Dean of Faculty




VP Business and Finance




VP Advancement




VP/Dean Admissions/Fin. Aid




VP/Dean Students




Total Surplus Above 2011 Average



*No change in salary currently reported.