Higher Pay in Higher Ed, Part 3: Decision-making at the local level

Posted May 6, 2014 3:33 am | Filed under Featured, Local News

higher-pay-in-higher-edToday, in part three of our series “Higher Pay in Higher Ed,” we ask our lawmakers for their thoughts on recent raises at Winthrop University — and how those raises might affect state funding.

We also asked about the change in policy that no longer require state agencies — like Winthrop — to submit requests for employee raises in excess of 15 percent. Ultimately, this leaves that decision process out of Columbia and in the hands of the local institution.

Monday, we heard from Winthrop University trustees chairwoman Kathy Bigham who told us that the absence of state oversight in some employees’ raises is uncharted territory for the trustees, who do not normally get involved in the university’s day to day activities.

Winthrop is, after all, a public institution even with less than ten percent of the university’s funding coming from the state.

Longtime State Senator Wes Hayes of Rock Hill says the president and board of trustees model works quite well in today’s academic environment and the state really shouldn’t be meddling in the finances of reputable institutions like Winthrop.

“I think it’s particularly true on college and universities because a very small part of their budgets is actually given to them by the state. Most of the funding that they receive is through tuition and fees,” Hayes said. “I think that they need to have the ability to make those decisions at the college level without micromanagement from the state.”

And, Hayes said, there are universities who have real financial issues, but Winthrop is not one of them.

Just last week, state lawmakers approved a $6 million loan package for S.C. State University in Orangeburg, where the school is having trouble making the payroll.

“I think in those cases, where the colleges can’t pay their bills, than you may see some micromanaging from the state and/or replacement of the board…but I don’t think Winthrop is anywhere near that point…I don’t see the general assembly second-guessing the president.”

The State of South Carolina does not play around when it loans institutions like S.C. State its money. In her address before the S.C. State trustees last week, Haley called on the board to enact new policies forbidding nepotism and requesting three years’ worth of audited financial statements. Both requests were eventually conditions of the loan.

Clearly, Winthrop University awarding raises to its employees this year in no way compares to the issues at S.C. State University.

And, for better or worse, state law now allows institutions to make all decisions regarding salaries to be made at the local level.

“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. “I do think we will be working together and looking at what changes may or may not need to be made.”

In this series, we’ve attempted to shed light on employees’ raises at Winthrop University.

But in the era of ever-increasing cuts to state funding, one takeaway may be how public institutions, like Winthrop, end up having to operate like a private university.

Yes, their books are open to public inspection, but given the lack of funding, they have to operate, and in some ways, fight like private businesses to recruit and retain quality employees.