GAINESVILLE, Fla., Dec. 10, 2008 -- After University of Florida trustees voted to give UF president Bernie Machen a $285,000 salary bonus earlier this week, Machen, the nation's eighth-highest-paid public university executive, announced he would give the bonus to a school scholarship fund, according to a UF news release.
The donation won't do much for UF's greater financial woes, but the move is a signal that the state's worsening economic outlook isn't being overlooked by one of its most well-compensated employees.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education's annual survey of university presidents' salaries, Machen was paid $731,811 for the 2007-2008 academic year.
Machen's quarter-million-dollar gift comes at a time when state university budgets are being hammered by cuts, with faculty members losing jobs and students struggling to pay tuition.
In May, UF announced that it needs to reduce its budget by $47 million, including eliminating 430 faculty and staff positions and reducing undergraduate enrollment by 4,000.
The fund Machen chose for his bonus to support, the Florida Opportunity Scholars program, provides financial aid to students most vulnerable to tough economic times, with household incomes less than $40,000 and parents who do not hold bachelor's degrees, according to a UF news release.
The program was created by Machen in 2006, and, UF says, about 1,100 students are benefiting from the program this year.
"It is extremely important to me to ensure all students, no matter their financial circumstances, have the opportunity to earn a quality education," Machen said.
With the nation in a recession, and Florida hit harder than many states because of its housing glut and tourism and development-centric economy, the state legislature was forced to cut the 2008-2009 state budget by $1.2-billion.
Public university funding from the state was reduced by 6.8 percent to help make up for the deficit, according to figures from the Florida Department of Education.
Pat Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said while commendable, Machen's donation -- preceded this year by a handfull of the nation's top-paid university presidents donating bonuses back to their institutions or forgoing raises -- should be just the beginning in re-examining how much public university officials are paid.
"It seems to me there's a lot of public anxiety about faculty not geting salary increases, housing costs and tuition going up," Callan said. "Without disparaging the president's motivation, it begs the question -- are these salaries too high to begin with?"
According to the November survey from The Chronicle, the average public university president made $427,400 per year, with total median compensation climbing 35.6 percent over the past five years.