The news is full of kudos for the decision by Raymond Burse, President of Kentucky State University, to authorize the transfer of $90,000 from his salary to the salary of a couple of dozen of the lowest-paid employees at his university. I add mine here.
There is much to applaud. But the move is already larger than the small but real increase for a few custodians, groundskeepers, and clerical workers. By reaching the audiences of the Washington Post, CBS News, Huffington Post, and international Sydney Morning Herald, and surely more to come, it elevates the debate about the minumium wage and the wealth gap in America.
Burse likely can live without the money – much would have gone to taxes, the remaining $260,000 per year will go pretty far in Frankfort, Kentucky, and this position builds on a career that included being a VP and general counsel at GE. And Burse is not new to university administration: he was president of KSU for much of the 1980s. More, he resigned from the Alabama A&M board of trustees in 2011, critical of the way he and others on the board were treated.
In a time when universities are struggling to balance their budgets, where tenured faculty are untouchable and students are paying ever-higher tuitions with ever-larger accumulations of debt, it is often lower-paid positions (staff, adjunct faculty, etc.) that have been cut. The least interesting critics will complain that there’s still a 12-to-1 pay imbalance. But for $90,000, President Burse makes a large contribution to his employees and to the larger discussion.
(More from Lillian Cunningham at the Washington Post)