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URBANA — A two-year budget crisis, a 10 percent state funding cut and the permanent loss of $463 million in state support didn't stop salaries from creeping up at the University of Illinois.

For the first time, the 10 biggest earners at the UI's flagship campus all make more than $500,000 — a $10 million list dominated, not surprisingly, by athletic department employees, top administrators and a new medical dean. Three other faculty-administrators make between $400,000 and $500,000.

An analysis of annual 2017-18 salary data from the UI's "gray book" for academic employees also shows more than 600 people at the Urbana campus now earn $150,000 or more annually, and 100-plus have topped the $250,000 mark.

But the number of central administration employees at the UI system level has dropped significantly since the last News-Gazette review in 2014-15, before the budget crisis hit.

Among the findings:

— The top 10 list (which has changed slightly since the 2017-18 gray book came out in September) contains most of the same titles as the list from three years ago. But the faces have all changed, reflecting UI turnover at the top.

The new addition: Dr. King Li, dean of the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine, who is No. 3 ($656,000), behind head coaches Lovie Smith ($3 million) and Brad Underwood ($2.75 million). Off the list: the director of the Beckman Institute (formerly Arthur Kramer, who retired from the UI and took a job at Northeastern University in 2016).

— The select group of Urbana employees earning $300,000 or more grew to 46 this year, up from 32 in 2014-15, and 20 topped the $350,000 mark. They include deans, administrators, coaches and noted professors in highly compensated fields such as accounting, law, business administration and science. Some professors are also associate deans or direct academic programs.

Among the highest earners are College of Business Dean Jeffrey Brown, who finished just outside the top 10 at $472,850; assistant basketball coach Orlando Antigua at $350,000; Chief Information Officer Mark Henderson at $326,000; Nobel Laureate Anthony Leggett, professor of physics, at $324,199; and business Professor Joe White, a former UI president, at $305,585.

— Of the 6,000-plus Urbana campus employees in the gray book, 104 now make $250,000 or more, and 255 earn at least $200,000 — two-and-a-half times the number from a decade ago and up from 217 in 2014-15. They include many faculty members and mid-level administrators, such as Krannert Director Michael Ross, at $277,994; law Professor Heidi Hurd, at $298,253; and Robin Kaler, associate chancellor for public affairs, at $256,015.

— The tally of those earning $150,000 or more on the Urbana campus grew to 615, up from 537 three years ago. But in university system administration, the number of $150,000-plus salaries dropped from 83 in 2014-15 to 64 this year (there's a small amount of overlap on the two lists).

— The gray book lists 580 academic professionals in university system administration, down from 811 three years ago. The unit includes vice presidents and their staff, as well as academic professionals in information technology, planning and budgeting, and the UI Press, among others.

Some system administration jobs were shifted to the campus level, but the university has also cut hundreds of non-instructional positions since 2015, according to UI figures.

— The gray book payroll for the Urbana campus increased by $14.5 million this year, or about 2.7 percent, reflecting the 2 percent mid-year raise granted a year ago and another 1 percent last summer. (The gray books don't include civil service staff, business accountants, adjunct lecturers, laborers, clerical staff and other union employees, who are listed separately.)

'Competitive marketplace'

UI officials say salary growth is a fact of life at a top-tier public research university, for several reasons.

"We're in a marketplace of higher education, and it's a competitive marketplace," said Executive Vice President Barb Wilson, who earns $450,000 a year. "If we don't stay competitive, we lose people."

UI professors are constantly being wooed by other campuses with offers of higher pay or better research support. The uncertain financial climate in Illinois over the last three years prompted a 40 percent jump in outside offers at the UI's three campuses, Wilson said. The UI usually tries to match them, "and it can get expensive," she said.

Provost Andreas Cangellaris said the private sector is also coming after the UI's top talent — and not just in business, engineering and computer science. With the advance of technology into everyday life, Amazon, Intel and other companies are going after innovators in the humanities and the arts for their expertise in ethics, design and other areas.

Wilson also points to data showing that the Urbana campus' average faculty salaries have slipped relative to the UI's peers, now 7.3 below the median compared to 1 percent in 2015. The UI went without general raises for two years during the budget impasse, aside from promotions, matching offers and other adjustments.

"Our competitors are doing healthy salary programs every year while we're not," she said.

Turnover can also play a role in salary inflation. When new people are hired, they often come in at higher pay than their predecessors.

The UI has had plenty of high-level turnover, with the departures of its athletic director, head football coach and women's basketball coach after an investigation into player mistreatment, a chancellor and provost who resigned following an email controversy, and a men's basketball coaching change.

Former football coach Tim Beckman, who was earning $1.8 million a year, was replaced by Lovie Smith. Basketball's Brad Underwood is making $1 million more than his predecessor, John Groce. Chancellor Robert Jones was hired at $650,000 to replace Phyllis Wise, who had earned $549,068.

"The bulk of our salaries are not at these high levels," Wilson pointed out. "They're for faculty and staff, not in administration or high-level leadership positions."

But even at the assistant professor level, she said, "every year you go out into the marketplace and hire new faculty, and the starting salaries are typically higher than they were the year or two before."

That also means junior faculty sometimes come in at higher pay than professors who have been on campus for a while, known as "salary compression." The UI tries to make adjustments each year to keep salaries within departments equitable.

The granting of tenure and other promotions also drive salaries higher, Wilson said.

Who pays?

Not all of the six-figure earners are faculty members. Many are mid-level administrators or academic professionals — associate vice chancellors, budget analysts, research scientists and the like.

Wilson said many of those positions are filled after national searches, so the UI competes in a national marketplace. If the campus wants to ensure that the Beckman Institute has quality research support staff, "we've got to hire incredible professionals," she said.

About half of the university's payroll is funded by tuition/fees or taxpayer dollars — $1.1 billion of the $2.48 billion total across the UI system, and $586 million of the $1.1 billion payroll at the Urbana campus.

As for the rest: Coaches' salaries are funded with athletic income (although student fees account for some of that). Professors with endowed chairs get part of their salary from donors. Some faculty members earn income from research grants, and many academic professionals are on "soft money," external funding from grants or foundations, Wilson said.

Overall, Wilson said the UI can't abandon its efforts to stay competitive unless it wants to "sink to a mediocre institution."

But it is increasingly relying on other ways to do that beyond state funding — in part by fundraising in a big way with its new $3.2 billion campaign that kicked off last fall.A new campus budget model is also designed to encourage units to review programs that aren't working and invest in those that can attract more students and generate income, such as expanded online courses and continuing education programs, Cangellaris said.

"It's not all state money, and it certainly can't be in the future," Wilson said.

Perception problem

Despite all those factors, UI officials know they have a perception problem, with taxpayers and legislators grappling with an out-of-balance budget and huge pension debt.

A 2015 report by the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus sharply criticized the higher education system for administrative "bloat," citing huge growth over the previous decade in "an increasingly larger bureaucracy and excessive administrative salaries."

Wilson said much of that growth has come in administrative services that support students — mental health professionals, academic advisers, writing coaches and information technology experts who make sure networks are safe.

"We just lump all of that into administrative costs, and everybody assumes those are all bad," she said.

Administrators also point out that last year's mid-year raise was funded mostly by staff reductions and budget cuts in other areas.

None of the top administrators across the system — chancellors, vice presidents and vice chancellors — took raises this year, aside from individual promotions, Wilson said. Killeen has not received a permanent raise since he was hired in 2015, but he has been awarded two $100,000 performance bonuses.

"We all felt that was the right thing to do," Wilson said. "This was not a time for us to increase our salaries."

Athletic Director Josh Whitman did take a 2 percent raise, boosting his salary $12,240 to $624,240.

The gray book also includes higher individual raises because of promotions and retention offers — such as the nearly 29 percent ($60,563) granted to Micheal DeLorenzo, who was promoted to senior associate chancellor at a salary of $270,500.

Wilson said the university has tried to be "careful" about administrative salaries.

"We don't want the highest-paid people getting the biggest salary increases," she said.

Data provided by the UI show that the raises from last summer's 1 percent salary program averaged 1.09 percent for higher-level administrators (including campus leaders, institute directors and others), 1.11 percent for other administrators and academic professionals, and 2.42 percent for faculty.

Similarly, at the Urbana campus, average raises were 1.07 percent for top administrators, 1.2 percent for other professionals and 2.37 percent for faculty. Adding in promotions, the latter two numbers rose slightly, to 1.4 percent and 2.88 percent.

Nationally, the overall median base salary increase for higher education administrators rose 2.2 percent in 2016-17, and 2.4 percent in both 2015-16 and 2014-15, according to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

Salary divide

Those efforts are of small comfort to lower-paid employees and unions currently negotiating with the UI.

AFSCME organizer Dave Beck, who works clerical workers and other modestly paid staff, cited a 1992 article about Local 3700's efforts to create a clerical union at the UI. One of their primary goals was ending pay disparity; at that time, President Stan Ikenberry earned about $152,000 a year.

Negotiations led to a "step" system, in which employees move up slightly on the pay scale each year, "so someone would start off at a modest wage but know if they stayed 20 years they would have a livable wage," Beck said.

He said the university has frozen step increases and wants to eliminate that system in favor of the same general wage increases given to the rest of campus. For workers who start out at $11 or $12 an hour, the best they can hope for is to keep up with inflation, he said.

The average salary in the clerical union is $35,000, he said. An entry-level clerical assistant earns $27,167 a year and a child development associate $22,300, according to the UI's salary list.

"They're creating a divide. They're creating a 1 percent and a 99 percent, and it's sad that we have to go through this all over again," Beck said.


Editor's note: An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect salary for animal sciences Professor Matthew Wheeler.  The News-Gazette regrets the error.


Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).