Right and wrong

In the last few weeks, I’ve been caught up in the world of higher education administration – in the politics and rhetoric, the terms and definitions that walk fine, yet poignant lines. I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to walk those lines, engaging in that rhetoric and those politics of a world that is so foreign to me. After running circles around six-figured salaries with the rest of West Michigan’s mass media, I am standing here today ready to make a claim that I’m sure those who are much older and much wiser than me believe I am not qualified to make. And in my foolish and prideful youth, I’m ready to lay down some serious knowledge on Grand Valley.

You want to know what I think? I think everyone is right. But I also think that, in this case, being right does not necessarily mean being not wrong. Confused yet? Stay with me. To quote a fellow Lanthorn editor, “this is going to get worse before it gets better.”

I’d like to think that as a pretty engaged college journalist, I’m involved enough in the inner workings of Grand Valley to be able to spot a bad guy. And that’s the thing – from where I’m standing, I honestly don’t see any. We’re lucky enough to have a university largely run by some very well-intentioned individuals, and I think our growth and success as a still-budding university speaks volumes to that. We are grossly underfunded by Michigan, nearing the bottom of the state appropriations list while, at the same time, we’re turning out top performances that rival those of our older, larger and more generously funded neighbors at U of M and Michigan State. When it comes to administrative pay, GVSU rolls in at number six, cast in the shadow of the astronomical numbers of our aforementioned counterparts.

So yeah. All things considered, we are doing well. In fact, we are doing better than a lot of others. I do believe that at GVSU, we are “being frugal” and “living within our means” and all of that other well-rehearsed language that has been ceaselessly recited to us by university officials and advocates. And although I am growing tired of that boiler-plate language, that is the part where I think everyone is right.

However, consider this – just because we are “not as bad as” other universities, can we justify the insane numbers posted by some of these administrative salaries at Grand Valley on that basis alone? This is the part that I believe everyone is, to some extent, still wrong about.

So here’s the other thing: this problem of pay inflation. It’s nothing new, and it’s not unique to GVSU. It’s not unique to universities, to Michigan or even to the United States. What we have here is a systematic flaw. This is a trickle-down of the growing dichotomy between the rich and the poor, one that we ourselves have fostered through greed and nearsightedness – the product of imbalanced wealth and perceived power and all of those other horrible, liberal rants that I won’t continue because I’m not Michael Moore.

But to offer you an example: In an analysis done by Forbes that looks at America’s 500 biggest companies, the average CEO paycheck was about $10.9 million. That makes $237,385 look measly, maybe even modest. Still, I don’t think we can justify our own wrongs by pointing out the wrongs of others, or by simply reasserting the things we have done right.

And hell, maybe our administration deserves it – they work hard enough after all, especially President Haas. But if that was the case in this world, then I think a lot of deserving, hard-working people would be a lot better off, don’t you? Nothing is that simple, and nothing is black and white.

So if you ask me, that’s where the administration at Grand Valley find themselves: treading in the waters of that all-consuming grey area, swallowed by a beast of a system that speaks in no certain terms and plays by no certain rules.