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Friday, October 28, 2011

Rick Scott's latest villian, college professors

From the Herald Tribune

by Eric Ernst

Parade magazine publishes an annual article looking at what people earn in a variety of jobs across the country.

Each entry includes a thumbnail photo, the subject's yearly pay and a notation of where he or she lives and works.

It's one of the magazine's most popular issues, appealing to the voyeur in all of us, but done playfully, in good humor and with the cooperation of the subjects.

That's not the case with Gov. Rick Scott's recent publication of the salaries of state university employees. He requested the top 50 from each school.

In and of itself, the request might seem innocuous enough. But, coupled with the governor's publicized disdain for liberal arts, his request for other performance data, his announced intention to upend the tenure system and his comments about purging unproductive professors (that definition still to be determined), his salary "revelations" come across less as informational and more as mean-spirited and threatening.

Their publication implies that professors and staff at Florida universities get paid too much, and the governor seems to invite the public to rise up in indignation.

That isn't happening for several reasons.

First, presidents, medical school profs, deans and coaches dominate the highest-paid list. No surprises there.

Second, if one digs a little below the surface, as reporter Zac Anderson did in a Herald-Tribune article published Wednesday, it turns out that the average salary of Florida professors is about $6,000 less than the average of $86,653 at research universities nationwide.

It's difficult to draw too much from that considering that the cost of living varies from one area to another, but it does suggest that Florida's pay is probably not out of whack on the high side.

Third, even if professors at major universities get paid more than most of us, so what? Education of the young is the hallmark of civilized society. Those who engage in it deserve high status and pay to go with it. University professors represent the epitome of that system. They should be paid accordingly.

And fourth, the public has numbers other than professors' salaries to lament when it comes to disparities in pay.

In 1965, CEOs in major U.S. companies earned about 25 times more than the average worker. Now the ratio is anywhere from 275 to 1 or 350 to 1, depending on whose figures you believe.

That type of discrepancy has some lamenting the decline of the middle class, in which professors are fully embedded.

Eric Ernst's column runs Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Contact him at or (941) 486-3073.

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