University President Takes A Chunk Out Of His Pay To Give Others A Boost
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Now we're going to hear from a university president who is cutting his pay by 25 percent. He's taking $90,000 off his own salary, and he's going to use that money to raise the pay of university employees who make under $10 and 25 cents an hour. He is Raymond Burse, the interim president at Kentucky State University, and he joins me now. President Burse, welcome to the program.
RAYMOND BURSE: Well, thank you.
BLOCK: And what gave you this idea in the first place - to cut your own salary and boost the pay of the lowest paid workers at your school?
BURSE: This is something I've been thinking about for a while. I wanted the lower-end employees, you know, to be invested in the things that we were going to do and tried to do at Kentucky State. And so I thought doing that was one way of getting them to reinvest and recommit to the institution.
BLOCK: You said this is something you've been thinking about for a while. Why has it been on your mind? What have you been thinking about, specifically?
BURSE: Well, you know, I think there's been a lot of debate across the country around minimum wage - what it should be or shouldn't be. This was an opportunity - I'm coming back in to head an organization and, you know - where our employees - those who were making $7 and 25 cents an hour - where they could really afford to do the things you want to do in life in terms of supporting themselves, buying food or just doing medicine - you know, those sort of basic essentials. And I thought, you know, here I am now in a position where I can do something.
BLOCK: How many workers will this affect, and what do they do at Kentucky State?
BURSE: It effects 24 employees at the institution, and they do a variety of jobs. Primarily they are the groundskeeper, the custodian, and some lower-level clerical or individuals.
BLOCK: Let's talk just a bit about your own background here. You were the president at Kentucky State also back in the 1980s - later a corporate lawyer and senior executive at GE and then retired. So I'm going to assume that you are comfortably well-off and could afford to take a $90,000 pay cut.
BURSE: Well, I was - I am - I am and was in a position to be able to do that. You know, the years at GE and the GE experience - the GE retirement has done well by me.
BLOCK: Well, how did you figure out where to stop? You're still going to be making about $260,000 a year. Did you think about going even further?
BURSE: I guess I never thought about going any further or doing anymore. You know, in my mind I was prepared to go to whatever the number would be to get those employees up to $10 and 25 cents an hour.
BLOCK: President Burse, if you think way back, can you remember a time when you were working at any minimum-wage jobs?
BURSE: Oh I had minimum-wage jobs. I can think back to the years when I was a teenager. And in fact, even after I was named a Rhodes scholar who spent my first year at Oxford University that summer, I worked a minimum wage job. So I am very, very aware of all of that.
BLOCK: What were those jobs?
BURSE: I was a laborer for a paving company back that summer after my first year at Oxford.
BLOCK: And before that?
BURSE: I was a caddie at a golf course. I was a worker on the golf course. You know, I mowed greens, cut fairways. You know, I did a number of things. Whatever labor you would need to be doing on a golf course I did at the minimum wage.
BLOCK: And do you remember what minimum wage was back then?
BURSE: I'm thinking we made - either it was a buck 75 or $2.25. It wasn't much.
BLOCK: How did that strike you back then?
BURSE: Well, for me who had barely anything, you know, making that money was like striking a gold mine for me. You know, I worked for it, was proud to work. I worked hard for it, and it made a difference in my life.
BLOCK: Well, President Burse, thanks so much for talking for us.
BURSE: Well, thank you for having me.
BLOCK: That's Raymond Burse, the interim president of Kentucky State University. He's cutting his salary by 25 percent - that's $90,000 - in order to raise the pay of the university's lowest paid workers to $10.25 an hour.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.