Editorial: College officials should return bonuses

Published 8:50 am Monday, September 28, 2009

We suspect that, across Minnesota, many workers have received notice that their usual holiday bonuses will fall victim to difficult economic times this year. Factor in stagnant wages and increases in employees’ share of health insurance premiums and it becomes very clear that belt-tightening is rampant.

In such circumstances, it’s fair to ask this question: Should the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system be awarding bonuses to high-ranking officials, even as it eliminates 500 positions and raises tuition?

That question came to a boil with the announcement that MnSCU paid $287,500 in performance bonuses to 35 employees, including $32,500 to Chancellor James McCormick. Three others, including a college president, a university president and a vice chancellor, received $12,000 each.

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These numbers have drawn the ire of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Members of this union are included among MnSCU’s janitors, clerical workers, landscapers and other employees, and dozens have been laid off as MnSCU tries to balance its books. Others have accepted two-year wage freezes.

Back in March, Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Romain Dallemand — a public employee whose salary is paid by taxpayers — didn’t even let the school board begin serious talks about his performance bonus before he said “No, thanks.” In an average year, he typically would have received about $8,000.

But there’s nothing typical or average about the current economic climate. So, regardless of what you think of Dallemand, there’s no denying his wisdom in turning down a bonus when his employer was trying to dig out of a $10 million hole. Appearances matter.

We don’t know the exact financial situation of every person who received a bonus from MnSCU, but we do know that McCormick has a base salary of $360,000. We’d suggest that he and his highly paid associates should consider returning some or all of their bonuses, or donating the money to charities and/or scholarship programs that help underprivileged Minnesotans.

— Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Sept. 22