As a student of University history, I thought my readers would be interested in this tidbit I came across in a biography of Alexander Grant Ruthven, who served as President of the University of Michigan from 1929 to 1951. (The Bentley has a nice page about former U-M presidents here) In the early days of the Great Depression, the state of Michigan was suffering “sooner and more severely than most other states,” nearly 1/3 of the residents of the state of Michigan failed to pay their taxes and over 200 Michigan banks folded between 1929 and 1932. In response, the state government cut the University’s funding by nearly 30%, forcing the University to undergo significant cuts.
Herein lies the twist: for the 1932-33 academic term, all salaries at the university were cut in an across-the-board reduction in pay, however the scale was graduated: the lowest paid were cut 6%, the next third 8%, and the highest paid (over $10,000) were cut 10 percent. President Ruthven’s salary was reduced from $18,000 to $16,200 that year alone. The next year, similar across-the-board pay decreases were made, this time on a scale of 8%, 12%, 15%, and 20%, with anyone earning under $1,500 totally exempt. This brought President Ruthven’s salary down to under $13,000. I think that these across-the-board cuts were a remarkably democratic and fair way of saving the University money in a time of crisis.
Although times certainly have changed, and this mild recession isn’t anythink like the Depression, the University’s cost-cutting techniques have been different. While it seems the administration has been trying to avoid changes that impact academics at all level, a $50,000-a-year woodshop frequented by students has been closed, and student Residence Hall Librarians laid off. Meanwhile 47 people at the University make over $250,000 a year, including our President Coleman at $475,000, not including a sizable bonus if she sticks around a few more years. At the state level, Governor Granholm and Republican leaders have announced they’ll be cutting their own pay to do their part. I’ll look forward to a similar announcement from Fleming.