Raymond Burse, interim president of Kentucky State University, has given up more than $90,000 of his salary so university workers earning minimum wage could have their earnings increased to $10.25 an hour.
"My whole thing is I don't need to work," Burse said. "This is not a hobby, but in terms of the people who do the hard work and heavy lifting, they are at the lower pay scale."
Burse's annual salary had been set at $349,869. He had been KSU's president from 1982 to 1989 and later became an executive at General Electric Co. for 17 years, including 10 as a senior executive. He retired in 2012 with good benefits, he said.
Burse started talking with members of the KSU Board of Regents about the gesture more than two weeks before the board met to approve his contract on July 25, he said.
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Burse asked how many university employees earn less than $10.25 an hour, an amount some say is a living wage. The current minimum wage is $7.25.
"This is not a publicity stunt," he said. "You don't give up $90,000 for publicity. I did this for the people. This is something I've been thinking about from the very beginning."
The raise in pay for those employees will stay in place even after a new president is selected, he said. It will be the rate for all new hires as well. The change is immediate.
Burse's salary is now set at $259,745.
Burse replaces Mary Evans Sias, who was president for 10 years. She retired June 30. Burse said he will hold that position for only 12 months while the board seeks a replacement for Sias.
The board asked Burse to do three things, including draw up a strategic plan for the university. To do that, he said, he will conduct a culture survey to find out what staff, faculty and students are thinking.
"A lot of people shy away from culture surveys because they don't want to know what the people are thinking," he said. "But I need to know am I going in the right direction, and I need to determine where I am going from here."
There have been many changes at the university since he led it in the 1980s.
"People are now more willing and accepting of change," he said. "Before, they had to be convinced of it. It made for heavy lifting, heavier than now. And now there are more areas that need working on, too."
After the board approved the cut in his salary, Burse said, he heard positive comments from people throughout the university, and especially when he walks across campus.
His pay cut is not a poke at other university presidents to follow suit, he said.
"I was in a position where I could do that," he said. "That is not always the case."