You Paid for It: Tenured college and university professors
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) - You may not know it but college and university professors who make the most money often spend the least amount of time teaching.
Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears looks at whether that's the best use of our tax dollars at a time when schools are being forced to slash their budgets, cut classes and even turn students away.
Though some of what they teach might be all Greek to you or me, tenured teachers are considered the rock stars of a university. And some of their salaries translate into hefty price tags for taxpayers.
"This is the biggest expense the university has," says student body president Sara Saenz.
At UNLV, it's almost $50.4 million a year.
"In spite of the fact that people think we all live in ivory towers, there is a market for faculty. And if you want to get the best faculty then you're going to have to pay them a respectable salary to do that," explains UNLV Executive Vice President and Provost Michael Bowers.
We wanted to look at all the salaries you paid for this year.
Contact 13 examined hundreds of pages of records from all three Southern Nevada colleges and universities to see how much you're spending on tenured teachers.
Compared to UNLV's $50.4 million, you're paying $23.5 million at College of Southern Nevada and $607,000 at Nevada State College, where there are only seven tenured faculty members.
"I think the whole aspect of tenure needs to be re-evaluated," says County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, a former university regent.
When you do the math, you find UNLV's more than $50 million pays for 476 tenured teachers. With 708 total faculty, that's more than half - or 67 percent - who are tenured.
"We want our faculty to be engaged in groundbreaking, and sometimes controversial, research and teaching. And so tenure protects them in their ability to do that," says Dr. Bowers.
Bowers explains that tenure takes six years and a rigorous review process at multiple levels, as well as annual reviews.
"Are we getting the bang for our buck? Are you as students getting the bang for your buck here?" Spears asked student body president Sarah Saenz.
"Not right now, no," she answered.
And then there's the hundred-thousand-dollar club: folks who make more than $100,000 a year.
At UNLV, 23 of them teach only one class per semester. Another 57 teach just two.
"Their workload isn't just how much time they spend in front of a classroom, just as a TV anchorperson's time is not just the time they spend on camera," says Bowers.
Among those with a light class load are some familiar names, like former Congresswoman Dina Titus, who teaches one "Women in Politics" class and makes $108,000.
Former UNLV President David Ashley, who was demoted amid controversy, makes $173,000 teaching two engineering classes.
We even found a geology professor who pulls in $107,000 to supervise just one student who is writing a thesis.
"Well, the people who are only teaching one or two classes typically are doing other things," Bowers explains. "For example, they're working in the lab with students or they're over-seeing doctoral dissertations."
How about the professor who teaches Romance Linguistics to 17 students for $111,000? Or the one who teaches Supply Chain Management to 11 students for $194,000?
The highest paid professor gets $224,000 to teach two finance classes.
"That person who may be teaching two classes may also be serving as a department chair or may be administering a multi-million-dollar grant," says Bowers.
Though all tenured professors do more than teach, like publishing and research, former regent Sisolak says what used to fly may not anymore in a time when budget cuts are costing colleges and universities entire departments and programs.
"In this economic time that we're facing, taxpayers need to make sure they're getting the services that they're paying for. And that's even more so in higher education," Sisolak says.
Some think neither taxpayers nor students are getting their money's worth at UNLV.
Contact 13 obtained an email recently sent to lawmakers by a former consultant to UNLV's College of Business.
Dr. Rollin Karnehm writes: "I was appalled at the waste I observed at the university. UNLV is noted for being one of the highest paying universities in the country and one of the lowest in the delivery of a quality education."
Click here to read the full letter Dr. Karnehm sent to Nevada's senators
"Personally, I think that's really sad and I know that to be true," says Saenz. "We just have to restructure. I think this is a wake-up call for administration."
Dr. Karnehm also told senators he "observed professors being more absent during office hours than being there to help students" and "observed professors canceling classes in lieu of basketball and football games."
"That's absolutely untrue," says the provost.
Bowers rejects Dr. Karnehm as a disgruntled former employee and says UNLV salaries are not over-inflated.
But he does think students are sometimes short-changed.
"I suspect that most students would like to have more face time with their faculty," says Bowers. "We do have minimum requirements for faculty to hold office hours and to meet with students."
College of Southern Nevada also has minimum requirements for how many classes professors must teach each term. But at CSN, where 68 percent of full-time faculty have tenure, Contact 13 found nearly a dozen professors teaching less than what's required.
"They should teach full loads. That's what they're getting paid for," says Sisolak.
Most people don't get to slow their workload down and ease into retirement. But some at CSN do, and you paid for it.
They have a phased-in retirement program where qualified faculty can work less as they head toward retirement but still make their full salary.
Back at UNLV...
"Could we do better?" Provost Bowers muses. "Again, of course, we can always do better and I think we will do better."
We want to hear your thoughts on what you've paid for: Do you think taxpayers and students are getting the bang for their buck? Check out the data we received on salaries and class loads in connection with this story and send an email to email@example.com.
And be sure to also send us your ideas for future "You Paid for It" segments.