Higher Pay in Higher Ed, Part 2: State approval for raises no longer needed

Posted May 4, 2014 11:49 pm | Filed under Featured, Local News

higher-pay-in-higher-edFriday morning, we first told you about a series of raises and new hires at Winthrop University that have taken place over the last ten months under the leadership of Winthrop’s new president, Jamie Comstock Williamson.

This year, those 88 raises totaled $576,000 in new pay, a dollar figure that is the lowest in three years. Among this year’s raises, most were the result of an internal salary review process and budgeted; 14 of the 88 were directly approved by President Williamson.

Today, we hear reaction from Winthrop University’s board of trustees. Chairwoman Kathy Bigham said a series of changes in state code this year means significant salary increases we reported on Friday — like the 33 percent raise for Winthrop police chief Frank Zebedis — no longer require outside approval.

“This is a new and unusual situation for us as a board of trustees because prior to February 1, 2014, no raise, no salary increase could be given for more than 15 percent unless it went before the state resource division for review,” Bigham said, describing the state approval process as anything but a rubber stamp.

“And [Winthrop] actually had to approve that, you had to justify it, give the amount, etcetera. The larger raises of more than 15 percent; that is not something that we’ve had to address as a board prior to this.”

The change allowed Winthrop to sign a new memorandum of understanding with the S.C. Office of Human Resources February 25.

Under the former rules, only a portion of Zebedis’ raise would have required approval by the S.C. Office of Human Resources. However, Zebedis’ raise and promotion to Assistant Vice President were approved by President Williamson in March when state approval was no longer required.

“I do think we’ll work with Dr. Williamson in the future on what we’re comfortable with, what she’s comfortable with and, of course, what the faculty and staff are comfortable with,” Bigham said. “So I do think we will be working together and looking at what changes may or may not need to be made.”

Winthrop University’s Board of Trustees are set to meet later this week in between graduate and undergraduate commencement ceremonies.

It’s important to note that although Winthrop is a state-supported school and several board of trustees represent elected officials across South Carolina, less than ten percent of Winthrop’s budget comes from state appropriations. And, when state lawmakers approve across the board salary increases, the burden to pay for those increases isn’t as clear as you might think.

“What most people don’t know about those increases: When the legislature approves an increase, they only pay for about a third of it,” Winthrop University spokesman Jeff Perez said. “The universities have to find it.”

So we have two very opposite ends of the spectrum: A partially-funded mandate, if you will, leaves institutions like Winthrop University shouldering the majority of state mandated raises. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you see institutions like Winthrop having to go to great lengths to maintain industry-standard pay in order to attract and keep quality personnel.

“I think Dr. Williamson has done a great job of visioning what Winthrop needs. And that’s growth in the university, diversity in the university; not only with normal diversity but with academic and geographic diversity as well,” Winthrop Foundation board chairman Gary Williams said. “And part of her mission, her goal, is to increase 1,000 students to add to that quality. And I think she’s on the right track.”

In the final part of our series on Tuesday, we hear from our local lawmakers about inconsistency in funding those raises on the state level, how they feel about the seemingly large increases in university employees’ pay and how both issues could impact future decisions in state appropriations not just to Winthrop, but to universities across the state.