Iowa university presidents agree to no pay raises this year

'The board is very happy with the work university leadership is doing'

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The Iowa Board of Regents’ university presidents won’t get pay raises this year — for a second year in a row — after a rocky Legislative session slashed state support for higher education and prompted last minute tuition hikes.

That decision — which was mutually agreed upon by the university presidents and regent leadership — will save the institutions both money and public critique as they continue to shift their cost burden from the state to students and families.

“The board is very happy with the work university leadership is doing,” board spokesman Josh Lehman told The Gazette on Monday. “However, given the current budget situation, it was agreed there would not be raises for the presidents this year.”

Every summer the board evaluates the performance of its institutional heads and considers whether to boost compensation. Regents made no public comment after their reviews in June, but Lehman confirmed the board at its meeting Wednesday will consider approving a pay raise only for Steve Gettel, superintendent of the Iowa School for the Deaf and Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook came to a “mutual agreement” with the board to keep their salaries static, according to Lehman, marking the second straight year Harreld has skipped a raise after both he and former Iowa State University President Steven Leath last year requested status quo pay in light of similar tuition hikes.

That means Harreld’s salary — at $590,000 with a five-year deferred compensation plan contributing $200,000 annually — has not changed since his hire in fall 2015. Nook replaced former UNI President Bill Ruud in February at a starting salary of $357,110. This summer’s evaluation was his first.

Because Leath in early May left Iowa State to lead Auburn University, former UNI President Ben Allen has been serving as interim ISU president — making $525,000 until the board chooses a new, permanent leader, possibly later this fall.

The last time the board approved raises for its university presidents was in summer 2015, on the heels of state appropriation bumps allowing regents to freeze tuition rates for resident undergraduate students.

But the state came up short of regent funding requests last year, prompting the board to raise tuition. And then in February, citing a budget shortfall, the General Assembly approved midyear permanent funding cuts that clawed back $20.75 million from the Board of Regents’ three public universities.

In April, lawmakers further reduced state support for the regents in the new budget year that began July 1, cutting its base funding by another $9.58 million.

With its state support now $30.33 million less than at the start of the 2017 budget year, the board this summer approved additional tuition hikes — over and above the 2 percent increase it approved in December for resident undergraduates.

Now resident undergraduates across the three campuses will pay 5 percent more than they did last fall, and some other groups — including out-of-state and graduate students — will see even higher increases.

The university presidents have been vocal about the impact state cuts could have on their ability to attract and retain top faculty and thus the quality of education. Harreld, specifically, has asked the board to let him hike tuition over the next five years by thousands — bringing UI more in line with its peer institutions.

Board leadership is spending this summer mulling tuition for the future, asking university presidents to present five-year tuition plans.

Unlike the board’s three public universities, its special schools — the Iowa School for the Deaf and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School — in aggregate saw its operating appropriations increased 1.2 percent from the 2017 budget year.

Thus Gettel’s base pay will increase 1 percent from $189,000 to $190,890. He’ll also receive the $15,500 performance incentive resulting from his recent evaluation, and the board established a new performance incentive of $20,000 to be awarded after his 2018 evaluation.

The board’s evaluations typically include its executive director, which has been Bob Donley since 2008. But, because Donley had just submitted a letter of resignation, the board canceled his June performance review.

Donley’s time as executive director ended July 16, and the board’s State Relations Office Keith Saunders is serving as interim during the search for a replacement. Saunders is making $200,000 in the interim role, even though the position’s salary is capped by Iowa Code at $154,300, because an interim director is not subject to the cap based on an Iowa Attorney General opinion, board officials said.

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