CATEGORY: EDT Editorials


Editorial, Thursday, May 21, 1998

State College Board member Jake Mills of Tupelo always says what he thinks, and sometimes what Mills thinks makes waves and rocks boats.

Mills stirred the water this week when he said Mississippi university presidents all eight of them need substantial pay raises to keep their salaries in a competitive range.

Regional figures for the average pay of chief executive officers at comparable universities in other states support Mills' position.

Mississippi is a member of the Southern Regional Education Board, a clearinghouse for information and research about education from kindergarten through graduate school in 15 southern states. Its data for the last academic year shows presidential salaries at Mississippi universities of every size and degree-granting category distressingly lower the regional averages. Men and women with exceptional qualifications and administrative gifts may come to our state-supported universities, but if they are very good at their jobs they automatically become potential recruits for higher-paying executive positions in other states.

The SREB's figures show the eight university heads in Mississippi range from about $3,000 to more than $50,000 lower than the official state pay in the region. The gap is widest at the highest two levels of university categories Doctoral I (Mississippi State University) and Doctoral II (University of Mississippi and University of Southern Mississippi) institutions. The gap is serious but narrower for executive officers at Jackson State,, Alcorn State, Delta State, Mississippi University for Women and Mississippi Valley State University.

Nothing about Mills' position invites widespread support. The university heads make good money compared to Mississippi's average household income. Other educators, including teachers in the public schools, also trail far behind peers in the Southeast, so sympathy for presidential salaries may be hard to find even inside the education community. However, the university presidents' salary gap is wider even than the faculty salary gaps.

Universities, however, don't operate to be average but for excellence. Salaries for executives, other administrators and faculty members must be competitive.

It's also hard to justify salary gaps at the presidential level in light of the huge salaries paid head coaches in almost all the sports supported by the major universities. Mississippians apparently have no problem coughing up enough money from private sources to supplement official coaching salaries, so they shouldn't object to paying the presidents equally competitive salaries from tax sources.

The salary gaps, it should be noted, would still exist even with proposed 3 percent to 5 percent raises Mills said he would support. The salaries were raised by 10 percent last year.

The College Board should adopt the proposed raises and perhaps consider even higher ones. It maintains more political independence than either the Legislature or the governor, and it always should act with the universities' best interests in mind. Higher presidential salaries would serve that interest.

Trauma care system requires time and intricate planning

The near-death automobile accidents involving Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Gov. Kirk Fordice became powerful factors in the persuasion and influence of the two men in passage by the Legislature of a statewide trauma care system.

The system, with $2 million appropriated for implementation, isn't operating yet, but planning with key hospitals expected to be part of the system has started.

Discussions held this week with trauma specialists at the North Mississippi Medical Center set in motion preliminary steps toward implementation in Northeast Mississippi. However, specialists and political leaders involved in the process say about $6 million is needed, $4 million more than appropriated this year by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Fordice.

Trauma care requires close coordination among a network of medical specialists and hospitals, particularly trauma surgeons. The distance between good legislative intent and implementation is substantial because multiple levels of certifications and protocols must be established.

The operating system will be worth the time and effort involved because it will mean lives saved that otherwise might be lost.

The Legislature made the necessary first commitment. It should make the rest of the funding an early and non-controversial order of business in 1999.

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