As the cost for Alabama residents to attend the University of Alabama keeps rising, system Chancellor Robert Witt made a questionable decision to keep the school’s former president — who left after two months — on a $535,000-per-year salary.
Ex-President Guy Bailey took office in August and quit in October.
By all accounts, Bailey is a likeable man who departed so soon perhaps only because of his wife’s health. Witt justified his decision as an effort to encourage Bailey — a tenured linguistic expert — to return to the school as a professor.
It appeared to be an act of generosity. In a system with a constrained budget, though, generosity to one person hurts others.
Taxpayers are paying more than $400 million to the University of Alabama system annually, and last month the system’s board of trustees said it would ask the Legislature to raise the amount to $611 million in fiscal 2014.
The university has blamed dropping state contributions for steadily rising tuition rates, including a 7 percent increase this school year.
Meanwhile, thousands of Alabama students lost Pell Grants this year because of federal cost cutting.
The $446,000 that Bailey will make during 10 months of unemployment may seem a drop in the bucket. On the other hand, it’s enough to pay full tuition for almost 50 University of Alabama students for a year. The $535,000 annual salary that Bailey will make for doing nothing would cover the wages of 23 Alabamians at median income.
The University of Alabama enjoys considerable support from taxpayers. Its success or failure in controlling tuition costs is an essential component in the opportunities available to students in a state with one of the nation’s highest poverty rates.
Whether or not the expenditure on Bailey was justified, we hope the concerns it raised among Alabama residents were not lost on Witt and the board of trustees.
They need to do all they can to promote university excellence, but they also need to demonstrate their determination to keep costs — both to students and to taxpayers — as low as possible.
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