Country clubs over campus clubs

Over the weekend, a Gazette-Mail article resurfaced at a time when higher education and all facets of state government are facing drastic budget cuts amidst a projected $460 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2016-2017.

The story, a November 2015 article, detailed Marshall president Jerry Gilbert’s starting salary. Prior to his arrival, it was determined that Gilbert would make $430,000 annually with a wide array of benefits incorporated into the deal.

Gilbert, the former Mississippi State provost, accepted the contract after an almost-year long search to replace Marshall’s president Stephen J. Kopp, who passed unexpectedly in December 2014.

In addition to Gilbert’s salary, advantages include monthly stipends for mobile phone and vehicular use, life and health insurance, a state retirement plan and membership to the Guyan Golf and Country Club, the article stated.

In comparison, West Virginia University’s bow-tie-sporting leader president Gordon Gee, earns nearly double Gilbert’s salary. In the same report, the Gazette-Mail outlined Gee’s salary at $775,000.

To put those numbers into perspective, both leaders are paid more than United States president Barack Obama, who brings in $400,000 annually.

It is not the intention of the Parthenon’s editors to target Gilbert personally with this editorial. Rather, the issue at hand is not about the salaries themselves at all. Instead, we fear the luxurious assets tacked onto presidential contracts may entice the wrong candidates for the wrong reasons.

The membership fee is not enumerated on country club’s website, but it is safe to say it would’ve replenished more than a few student foundation scholarships that have been recently cut due to a lack of funding.

Nationally, university leaders rake in more than a few pretty pennies each year—but are the additional benefits and stipends necessary? With no housing or utility fees, Gilbert’s vehicle stipend and country club membership could be funded directly from his salary.

Is a six or more digit salary not enough to attract candidates alone? Does the passion for higher education exist solely without a desire for extra benefits?

Another budget cut won’t help the case; certainly not one that, when combined with the existing 4 percent cut, would exceed ten percent hypothetically.

Another Gazette-Mail   measured the impact of the “hypothetical 6.5 percent upcoming cut” in an article published Feb. 18, addressing the possibility of community college branches closing, indefinite cancelation of State Police cadet trainings, state employee layoffs and closures of various correctional facilities.

The article also conveyed the concerns of Higher Education Policy Commission chancellor Paul Hill from Hill’s letter to the Finance Committee in which he stated, “I am acutely concerned about our state’s continued ability to provide access to an affordable postsecondary education for our citizens.”

With tuition and fee increases projected for the fall semester, one has no choice but to question the financial integrity of the university and its luxurious expenditures. Where exactly do our priorities lie?