UConn should try a 5-10-15 salary reduction plan

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The Republican budget plan vetoed by Gov. Dannel Malloy nevertheless stirred up a hornet’s nest at the state’s flagship university. The usual suspects at the University of Connecticut rose up in arms at the proposed cuts.

It is hard to sort out the actual details, but Republicans claim that their budget will cut about $200 million over two years from the state’s grant to UConn. Officials at the university claim that the cut is more like $300 million over two years.

Susan Herbst, the president of the university, immediately predicted doom. If the budget went through, schools in the system would be closed, programs would be curtailed, class sizes would increase, and faculty would be let go. In the Connecticut Post, my hometown paper, graduates of the university took out a full page ad claiming that the cuts would “decimate” the University. I quote:

“President Susan Herbst said they would include closing UConn Health and some regional campuses; ending some Division I sports; closing some academic departments and potentially some schools and colleges; enacting major reductions to all financial aid; and ending international programs, among others.”

In other words, if forced to make cuts, Dr. Herbst would strike at the most needy, the lowest of the low. For example, regional campuses that serve students who can’t make it into the prestigious campus at Storrs would be cut. Small sports that actually are played by UConn students would be cut, but mega-semi-pro businesses like basketball and football would probably go untouched.

The top 45 employees at UConn all make in excess of $400,000 a year, and the top 100 all make over $325,000 per year. At the top, of course, is famed Woman’s Basketball coach, Geno Auriemma, who makes in excess of $2 million a year. Most of the top earners would seem to be doctors and faculty at the UConn medical center. Even retired basketball coach Jim Calhoun still has faculty status and made over $300,000 in 2016.

A few years ago I read about a business owner who found his business threatened during an economic downturn. To save his business as well as the jobs of his employees he came up with a plan that was a marvel of simplicity and fairness. He called it the 5-10-15 plan.

Here’s how it worked. The top third of wage earners in the company, including himself, took a 15 percent cut in pay. The middle third took a 10 percent cut, and the bottom third took a 5 percent cut in pay. In this plan, the CEO took the greatest hit. No one, not even the lowest paid clerk or janitor lost their job. Everyone shared in the pain, but it was worth it because the business survived. Even the newest hires, traditionally the first to be cut, were spared.

I know it is rare to see such a plan enacted anywhere, whether in business, education, or government. When have you ever heard of a boss giving the axe to himself in any way? Even when the jobs of higher paid managers are cut, they usually bump some underling out of a job. When Susan Herbst, the President of UConn, talked about the cuts that would decimate the university, she certainly was not talking about decimating the top 100 employees.

A 5-10-15 plan would work very well at the university. The governor has asked all citizens to share the pain. During the governor’s administration taxpayers have already been subjected to two large tax increases as well as increases in various fees. Students and their families at UConn have already been asked to share the pain with increased tuition and larger class sizes.

President Herbst would do well to consider at 5-10-15 plan for her university. It would hit those at the top hardest, and those at the bottom the least. No schools need be closed or programs cancelled. The plan could even be phased in over two years to alleviate the pain.

Francis P. DeStefano, Ph.D., of Fairfield, is a writer, lecturer, historian and retired financial planner.

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