Following the recognition of one of the University of Utah's perhaps most noteworthy accomplishments, its president was asked to defend recent criticism of several large salary and compensation packages.
"Our institutional priority is to produce more Nobel Prize winners," U. President Michael K. Young said while addressing members of the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee Monday. To "put the university on the map," he said, they have to spend more money on its "first-rate team."
That team, he said, consists of names like vice presidents Lorris Betz, Dave Pershing, Fred Esplin and Jack Brittain. Together with seven other of Young's Cabinet members at the U., they tie up millions of the school's budget in salaries and compensation. It's a cost that Young believes is worth the talent and revenue savings they bring to the university.
"I can certainly hire people for less. I think it would be a dramatic disservice to the state," Young said. "The people of this state are entitled to have a university with a great vision and a great capacity to accomplish that. We take that very seriously."
Young was not apologetic that the administrators have received salary increases in the past five years to the tune of nearly 37 percent.
When Betz was hired as dean of the medical school, the on-campus hospital was running on a $67 million deficit. Young said the hospital is currently running with a steady $35 million revenue stream.
"The numbers speak for themselves," he said. "For every dollar I pay him, we see about $30 back."
Such revenues, he said, help to subsidize the money with which the university is run. The state provides 10.5 percent of the total operating budget, which at the U., is about $2.3 billion.
Lawmakers are particularly concerned with the increasing salaries coming from taxpayer dollars. Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, told Young to be sure he's paying his staff with revenue dollars rather than state funds.
"To the extent that we can in terms of what pocket pays who as far as tax revenues go, let's use the revenues these people are generating to pay for their salaries," Holdaway said.
With Pershing's assistance, the school has seen a 66 percent increase in federal and extramural grant awards, while Esplin, "who wears two hats at the university," Young said, "getting paid less than the two people I'd have to pay to do his job," has increased funding at the university by $35 million. Brittain, Young said, has pushed the commercialization of the university to make it ninth in the nation among comparable schools.
"The point is really simple. If we compare our budget this year, looking at non-state, non-tuition revenue, operating revenues for the university, we are $800 million higher than when I arrived four years ago," Young said, adding that the increase is a direct consequence of the team he has in place.
"We are taking that money, using it as responsibly as we can, and the return to the state is $9 for every one dollar they put into our institution."Young said he'll continue to defend the high salaries because it takes such a commitment to make the university great and said "we can really show these people really are producing revenues that are great for the university."