Our view: It might be symbolic – but worthwhile

When Black Squirrel Radio asked President Lester Lefton whether he would take a pay cut or refuse a bonus during this economic recession, his answer was – well – a bit ambiguous.

“It’s an interesting and big symbolic gesture when someone chooses to take a pay cut,” Lefton said. “The real issue is not a president’s pay – the real issue is the job they’ve been asked to do by their Board of Trustees.”

It’s no secret that university presidents perform difficult jobs, especially in Ohio. After all, state subsidy is shrinking, and presidents are having to take on a larger role as fundraisers. To Lefton’s credit, Kent State is having its best fundraising year ever, raising almost $4 million more than it did at this point last year.

Nonetheless, these don’t mean Lefton shouldn’t have to tighten his belt a little more than he has already done. Not filling the special assistant post formerly held by Yank Heisler and not hiring a student assistant are small steps, but he could surely do more.

Heck, Ohio State’s president did.

President E. Gordon Gee and other top administrators at Ohio State waived their own potential raises or bonuses for the year, requesting the money be used for financial aid for students. Sure, it might come easier for Gee to take a cut. After all, he makes more than $1.3 million in total compensation compared to Lefton’s roughly $519,000.

But at the end of the day, it’s Kent State’s Board of Trustees who sets the president’s compensation level. Lefton’s contract states that he’s eligible for an annual performance bonus up to a maximum of 20 percent (or about $70,000) of his base salary. The bonus, however, is at the Board’s “sole discretion.” Just last June, for example, the Board granted Lefton a 3 percent raise and a $73,500 bonus.

Like Lefton said, taking a pay cut or refusing a raise is a “big symbolic gesture.” That alone is a reason for Lefton and the Board to explore the issue. Kent State students are hurting financially. The cost of our education is increasing, but our paychecks aren’t. Faculty are even feeling the brunt of the recession with the elimination of sabbaticals.

Simply refusing $70,000 could mean another batch of scholarships for students, a few more adjunct faculty members or even another full-time professor.

Lefton has said he wants to avoid cuts that would impact a student’s experience at Kent State. Refusing a raise, however, could positively benefit a student’s experience. It might not mean much to us financially, but it sure would be one hell of a gesture. And gestures mean a lot.

The Board and Lefton should think about what this could mean for Kent State. For example, just over the weekend headlines in the Akron Beacon Journal read, “UA president’s pay climbs” after University of Akron’s trustees awarded Luis Proenza with $85,000 in performance payments.

If Kent State trustees offer our president a raise or bonus, we don’t see how Lefton could accept it without it weighing on his conscience.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.