BSU’s Tromp should lead by example, cut her own pay and benefits

Fred Birnbaum Articles, Higher Education Leave a Comment

On Wednesday, Boise State University President Marlene Tromp announced a plan to inflict pay cuts and furloughs on all athletic department employees who earn more than $40,000 annually. 

The school is reeling from the loss of football revenue after the Mountain West Conference canceled its season in August. The school, Tromp revealed recently, could be out more than $20 million if the Broncos don’t grace the blue turf this year. 

Officially, Tromp’s plan calls for those earning more than $100,000 a year to see pay reductions between 8% and 15%. Lower-paid athletic department staffers will see furloughs of between four and 12 weeks. An unknown number of staffers will be reassigned to other areas of campus.. 

Tromp’s proposal could save BSU roughly $1.8 million. 

But, her plan should also spark a larger discussion about leadership and priorities in BSU’s spending.  

Consider for a moment that the person slashing pay for BSU workers — Tromp — brings home a hefty paycheck each year. Her cuts might not inflict much pain on football coach Bryan Harsin’s pocketbook, but they will do significant damage to lower-paid staffers who make less each year than Tromp receives from BSU just to pay for her housing. 

According to her contract, Tromp earns an annual salary of $425,000, plus a $60,000 housing allowance and a $9,200 car allowance. 

Will she cut her own lavish pay  and perks to show solidarity with the working men and women of Boise State?

A larger discussion remains: Why someone paid $425,000 per year needs either a housing stipend or car allowance.  

Tromp could provide real leadership by forgoing those perks — perks that virtually nobody else in Idaho government or the nonprofit sector gets, except perhaps other university presidents.

Note, too,  Tromp’s contract grants her one full year of salary if she is terminated, unless the termination is for egregious reasons such as a serious law violation. So, if she is pushed out, she gets a golden parachute too.

Where’s the golden parachute for the newly furloughed employees? 

Are there other examples of BSU expenditures that could be curtailed? You bet.

Like other Idaho institutions of higher education, BSU has committed itself to a social justice agenda. Given the controversy, and the clear pushback from alumni and concerned parents, this would be an excellent time to reduce spending on these ancillary and controversial initiatives. 

Here’s one easy cut: BSU employs an assistant to the vice president for equity initiatives. This job likely adds little to no value to the average BSU student’s life. Tromp should furlough or cut this position immediately. 

During the last legislative session, the legislature appropriated more than $628 million to all of Idaho’s four-year colleges and universities, including more than$107 million of General Fund money from taxpayers (beyond tuition and fees) to BSU. 

The Legislature also provided clear intent language — extra instructions that spell out the will of lawmakers — in the appropriations bill: 

REPORTING REQUIREMENTS. It is the intent of the Legislature that each institution continue with budget reduction considerations and cost containment efforts and, where possible, priority should be placed on reducing administrative overhead and the elimination of expenditures that are not integral to each institution’s core instructional mission. The State Board of Education shall provide a written report to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the House and Senate Education committees detailing these budget reductions and cost containment efforts no later than January 15, 2021.

In short, Idaho’s Legislature strongly suggested that Idaho’s colleges and universities eliminate unnecessary expenses and positions that don’t directly aid classroom instruction. From recent actions, it is not clear that the message has been received. This is an opportunity for Tromp to lead by example, as well as adhere to legislative intent. BSU’s cost-cutting measure should start at the top. The president should take one for the team, like she’s asking the football folks to do.