Safe in his eighth floor office at 1 Silber Way, Boston University President Robert Brown gazes upon a bustling Commonwealth Avenue campus. Although he rarely steps outside, he runs the University in a manner mimicking that of a CEO. And his paycheck matches his attitude.
A Chronicle of Higher Education report released Sunday revealed the 36 highest earning presidents of colleges and universities with the highest endowments in the United States as of 2012. Brown was high on the list at number 20, collecting a yearly salary of approximately $1,164,078.
It is also worth noting that Brown’s salary also includes residence in a BU-owned house near South Campus as well as other nontaxable benefits, BU spokesman Colin Riley told The Daily Free Press.
“It’s fair compensation, and by any measure, his leadership and vision for Boston University has resulted in the university continuing to make strides and to provide quality education to its students,” Riley said. “The total compensation includes what the Executive Committee from the Board of Trustees determined was a fair increase [of 4 percent].”
Although we can’t assume that any tuition increase is associated with an increase in Brown’s salary, it is a fact that student tuitions are rising and Brown’s salary is rising. As students struggle to meet tuition requirements year after year, it’s difficult to be OK with feeding into Brown’s ever-expanding wallet when a good portion of the student body has not even heard his voice.
Running the multi-billion dollar corporation that is BU is surely difficult. And in context, running such an expensive institution that employs and educates tens of thousands of people is worth a high salary. It’s difficult to calculate an exact number that matches Brown’s worth as president, but in all fairness, it probably wouldn’t be that much less than what he already earns.
Brown may be busy representing our campus as a prestigious institution, and it’s difficult to ignore the fact that BU has become more competitive on a national scale, yet he does not seem to enjoy being the face of BU’s student body. Case in point: barely anyone in the student body has a relationship with him, and he rarely makes efforts to reach out to the students.
Sure, the sporadic letter from him shows up in our BU email inboxes every once in a while. Does he even write them? If a student called his office with a question or concern, someone would pick up the phone. But it would never be Brown on the other end of the line. Brown hires legions of employees to be the faces of the BU campus, and people like Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore are welcome faces on Commonwealth Avenue, but where is Brown? Seen only in pictures and never heard, Brown is definitely the leader of BU, but an invisible one.
BU suffers from an appalling lack of transparency between the hierarchy of the administration and the student body. Even initiatives targeted at improving the lives of BU students never seem to reach them. In September, BU dedicated the Center of Student Services at 100 Bay State Road to the Yawkey Foundation, which came with 100 scholarships for students to receive paid internships at non-profit organizations that are unable to compensate interns themselves.
The grand dedication ceremony featured some of the most important figures at BU — including Brown — but no students were invited. We see press releases and BU Today articles, but rarely are students asked to participate in any important campus movement, nor does Brown seem to care about what students are doing on campus.
Yet maybe he’s better than former BU President John Silber, who served from 1971 to 1996 and was notorious for harassing members of our very own The Daily Free Press newspaper back in the 1970s for publishing content he disagreed with. Silber was at least around to interact with students, even if he was yelling at them. Yet Silber’s term existed before the ratings and statistics that force universities to adopt business models. Brown is running a multi-billion corporation, and it’s sad that education has been reduced to such a cold exterior.
Is it possible to run a business while being involved with the student body? It’s hard to say, but it seems to most students that Brown hasn’t even tried. Worse still, Brown’s longtime absence in the student body means that if he ever tried to take on a more active role, he would come off as disingenuous and fake.
The politics of Brown’s salary can never be accurately determined, but the politics of his personality can be, and the reality is that he comes off as cold and detached to the student body. Maybe those assumptions are false, but as long as Brown remains in his office, students will continue to think he spends his days signing checks and rolling in diamonds.