The controversy stirred by the Utah Board of Regents’ decision to raise salaries of university presidents is being subdued as administrators statewide — including Weber State University President Ann Millner — are deciding to invest their pay raises back into their universities.
“She is a great team member,” said Alan Hall, the chair of WSU’s Board of Trustees. “She recognizes the sacrifice of everybody else that’s being made.”
Millner — who was out of town on university business this week and unable to comment — intends to donate her $18,500 pay increase to the WSU Foundation, said John Kowalewski, director of WSU Media Relations.
The foundation is a trust that supports the educational mission of the university by providing scholarships, fellowships and other financial backing for educational opportunities.
“I believe that’s very consistent with President Millner’s record of philanthropy at Weber State,” Kowalewski said, adding that WSU’s alumni magazine reported last spring that Millner has donated between $100,000 and $249,999 to WSU in her lifetime.
Hall said the salary hikes have been on the table for several years, so the board’s decision to raise the pay of university presidents statewide was spurred by the University of Utah’s search for a new president to replace Michael K. Young, who left the institution to become the president of the University of Washington in April.
The gap between the salary of Utah’s university presidents and the average salary at similar universities nationwide was substantial and needed to be reduced to find a new president, said Holly Braithwaite, a spokeswomen for Higher Ed Utah.
“It did come to the attention of the board that presidential compensation in Utah across all institutions has fallen further behind peer institutions in the last several years,” Braithwaite said. “In order to recruit and retain qualified leaders, we need to be more in line with those peer institutions, based on both size and mission.”
Even so, Kowalewski said the timing of the decision is awkward.
“I would imagine that any attention being directed on (Millner’s) compensation or on her as an individual is somewhat uncomfortable, especially given the economic realities of society right now and of the state,” Kowalewski said.
At 9.5 percent, Millner’s raise was the greatest percentage increase after the 12.5 percent increase for the Dixie State College president. After the increase, Millner will make $210,000 annually, but will donate $18,500 of it to the WSU Foundation. Before the increase, Millner’s salary was 30 percent less than her peers at similar institutions, Hall said.
“You hate to have them go to work every day being underpaid, based upon what they could get on average anywhere else in the country,” Hall said. “What you try to do then in a market economy is make sure you don’t lose your presidents.”
Hall, who was invited to meetings with the Board of Regents when they discussed presidents’ salaries, said Millner’s pay hike was also merit-based.
“The regents looked at Ann probably more so than anybody,” Hall said, “saying she’s done an incredible job at Weber State, one of the best presidents in the system, and probably deserves to be paid what she’s worth.”
Kowaleski supported Hall’s praise of Millner.
“President Millner is currently the longest-tenured president at the same institution in the Utah system of higher education,” Kowalewski said.
Millner has presided over substantial enrollment growth since becoming president in October 2002. Enrollment topped 25,000 for the first time this fall, an increase of 7,000 from 2002.
“It’s a testament to her leadership and the strong foundation that she has been able to maintain and grow here at Weber State that has led to that level of growth,” Kowalewski said.