Ohio State University paid out $1-million-plus bonuses to three high profile employees and six-figure bonuses to 77 others in 2013, allowing them to boost their total earnings by 55 percent on average, university records released to this newspaper show.
The records reveal how much Ohio’s flagship public university is willing to pay to attract and keep talent. They also show the extent to which private sector practices that emphasize rewards for performance are influencing the university’s pay structure.
Topping the million-dollar bonus list were former university president E. Gordon Gee with a $1.46 million bonus, men’s basketball head coach Thad Matta with a $1.2 million bonus and women’s basketball head coach Kevin McGuff with a $1.14 million bonus payment.
Gee’s bonus was partly based on the exit package he negotiated with OSU trustees as he retired in July. His total compensation for 2013 was $2.14 million, the pay records show.
Overall, bonuses of $1,000 or more were paid to 1,757 of OSU’s 37,400 employees last year. Those payments, which averaged $23,029, added up to $40.46 million. OSU’s total payroll last year was $2.09 billion, including bonuses, overtime and other payments.
Greg Lawson, policy analyst at the conservative leaning Buckeye Institute, said quality employees should be paid market rates. But, he added, universities should be more frugal in light of the crushing debt and tough job prospects students are facing.
“We have an awful lot of fat already in the system,” Lawson said. “When you start bulking it up with those kind of dollar amounts, it’s awful hard for people who are struggling to go to school to reconcile their challenges and their going into red ink and debt with $40 million in bonuses.”
The newspaper’s examination of overtime costs also revealed that some eye-popping numbers, including that a single police officer last year racked up more than $95,000 in overtime.
Ohio State University is a complex, major institution with 56,000 students, 37,400 employees, sports and entertainment venues, a medical center and a $5 billion annual budget.
For comparison, that’s roughly the size of the budget for the entire state of Arkansas.
The bonus payments are a step up from just a few years ago.
In 2006, the head coaches for football and men’s and women’s basketball were paid a combined $1.3 million in bonuses while directors of two major hospitals and the vice president of health services pulled in a combined $346,014 in bonus pay.
That year, OSU employed 31,959 people and had a total payroll of $1.33 billion.
OSU spokesman Gary Lewis said the payroll and headcount increased for two reasons: merit raises averaging 2.5 percent per year between 2006 and 2013 and the shift of 900 medical center doctors and faculty members into the university total. Prior to 2011, those 900 — many of whom earned bonuses — were counted in a separate pool.
When asked about the size of the bonuses Lewis said, “The university uses a variety of market competitive salaries and incentives to attract, retain and reward the diversity of talent needed to foster and promote our long term success.”
The bonuses paid in 2013 reflect performance assessments at the end of a contract year, which is different depending on the employee.
The six-figure bonuses in 2013 went predominately to 12 executive managers and 63 medical center staff, including surgeons, radiologists, ophthalmologists and others.
The 12 highest-paid executives at the university received bonuses averaging $253,290, in addition to their average regular pay of $377,867. Leading the group were OSU General Counsel Christopher Culley, who was awarded a $691,119 bonus on top of his regular pay of $590,989, and Chief Investment Officer Jonathan Hook, who was paid a $483,243 bonus plus $628,740 in base pay.
State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said, “I continue to be sort of surprised that we would see bonuses at this level and I’d certainly be interested to hear an explanation from the university. On the surface, they seem excessive but there could be more to the story.”
The pay records released by OSU to this newspaper also revealed high overtime costs for university police. Last year that overtime helped 21 officers boost their total earnings to $100,000 or more.
One OSU officer, Thomas Schneider, made $95,572 in overtime in addition to $79,928 in regular pay, pushing his compensation above $175,000. That made him the department’s highest paid employee for 2013 and hiked his pay well above the $128,236 for Police Chief Paul Denton.
In all, the OSU police division paid out $1 million in overtime to 45 employees — an average of $22,711. The total base payroll for the 53-member department last year was $4 million. Last year, Schneider made more in overtime than any of Ohio State’s 37,400 employees.
Those figures are similar to 2010 when OSU paid more than $1 million in overtime on a total payroll of $4.9 million. Schneider and Officer Richard Green each made more than $84,000 in overtime that year, increasing their total pay to more than $165,000 apiece.
Denton said about $400,000 in overtime is paid out of the police division’s general budget and is used to cover shifts when officers are on vacation or in court. The remainder is special duty assignments that officers work and the division bills to event sponsors or other parts of the university, he said.
Roughly 600 events each year fall into this category — home football and basketball games, concerts, move-in day, commencements, the Columbus Marathon, and more. OSU officers are given first shot at the 7,000 hours of extra assignments per year, Denton said.
Lehner said paying out so much in overtime raises the question: why not hire more staff?
“We have looked at adding staff, police officers,” Denton said. “That would cut down on departmental overtime if they were placed on the right days.”
He noted, however, that demands for special duty assignments fluctuate dramatically, particularly on home football game days. “We couldn’t hire enough regular officers (to cover that),” he said.
While a selection of hourly workers make overtime and doctors, executives and coaches are paid bonuses, rank and file faculty members are not seeing such pay bumps, said Sara Kilpatrick of the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors.
Ohioans need to be concerned about more tax and tuition money being shifted toward administrative costs at the expense of academic spending, she said.
“I think this falls in line with the overall general trend that we’ve been seeing for decades now: Administrative bloat continuing to get out of control,” Kilpatrick said. “We have seen this over and over again and unfortunately it is becoming the norm.
“Unfortunately, it’s not a surprise to us anymore.”
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