While a whole lot of college students in Iowa will be living off Ramen Noodles and trying to make care packages from home last until Christmas break, the Board of Regents office looks to be living pretty high on the hog.
Why do you care? Because, every dollar that Iowa taxpayers spend to support the Regents desk-jockeys is a dollar that doesn't go into the classroom to teach the doctors, scientists, educators, etc. of tomorrow.
Every parent writing out a check to help their student at Iowa, Iowa State or UNI should be wondering where all that money is going.
In July Regents ordered a tuition hike on resident students, on top of other increases approved last December. Where do those hundreds of extra dollars squeezed from each of our young scholars go? To better train professors? For new classroom technology? To fund learning journeys abroad?
Or, does it go to administrators and plush offices?
The budget the Regents have come up with for the next fiscal year demands that the universities give them back $3.6 million to help pay the bills for their central office - nearly 30 percent more than last year!
With the state budget requests for the universities cut to the quick, and their own Regents' office bleeding them, it would be hard to imagine that academic excellence will not be impacted.
The Board of Regents themselves serve on a volunteer basis. They receive no salary. The expense is for their office staff, tasked to help them oversee operations of the universities. Administrators watching administrations. It is an important task, to be sure, but not one that should be a sky's-the-limit investment.
The Regents leaders say the big increase in money taken from the universities is necessary because the state budget is cutting back on them, and especially because of the rising cost of "personnel."
And oh, it's rising alright. Salaries are up $434,000 year-over-year, at a time when state budgets are tight.
How much of a pay increase do you think a kid working nights at a fast-food joint to help pay his or her tuition is going to get this year?
Regents Executive Director (Usually, when they put that "executive" in front of the title, it translates to "more expensive") Robert Donley was paid $338,466 in salary, bonuses and deferred compensation incentives for 2015, according to one published report. That's more than doubling the salary cap set for the position by the state legislature.
As supervisor for a reported staff of 21, the Regents director made nearly as much as the university president at UNI who was responsible for an 800-member academic staff and close to 14,000 students.
The Regents director is typically given $5,000 bonus checks, courtesy of the taxpayers of Iowa, while parents drain their savings to try to help their kids with tuition and purchase outlandishly-priced textbooks.
If you like that, you'll love this. While the Regent office cries over increasing cost of personnel, it has created a new position we've never needed before - a "chief operating officer" for the office. That job was gifted to a former UI administrator to the tune of $240,000 a year - with no open-application process or even a Board of Regents vote on it.
Or shall we discuss the hiring of a new former IBM exec with zero adacemic administration experience a year ago as the new president of the University of Iowa - chosen over the well-regarded former Ohio State U provost and executive VP. Students, faculty and staff pleaded for the Regents to hire any of the finalist candidates except the one they went on to choose.
If you think the system isn't about money, consider why you would hire a businessperson rather than an academian to lead a university. We'll see what happens as they replace another president, at UNI, this season.
The purpose here isn't to begrudge administrators their wealth and spending.
But we would note that education is done by educators, and at our universities they all ranks far, far, far below sports coaches.
Raises and bonuses for administrators probably don't add any flavor to those Ramen noodles for our students, as they slowly sink deeper into debt they may carry for two decades to come.