Welcome statement on workers' value

Raymond Burse
Raymond Burse

Raymond Burse is clearly not the average university president.

His interim appointment at Kentucky State University is only for one year. He's spent most of his career outside academia.

But what makes Burse really stand out is that he's forgoing $90,000 of his $349,869 annual salary to provide raises for the lowest paid people on the KSU staff.

Thanks to Burse, and the board of regents, the salaries of 24 people who work for as little as $7.25 an hour will be raised permanently to $10.25 an hour.

Burse described the workers, mostly custodial, groundskeeping and lower-end clerical staff, as "the people who do the hard work and heavy lifting."

Burse, a Rhodes Scholar and attorney who served as KSU's president from 1982 to 1989 before going on to private law practice and the executive ranks at General Electric Co., was hired as a temporary replacement for Mary Evans Sias.

Sias retired in May after 10 years at the helm, amid questions about the historically black school's low graduation rate and financial deficits.

Burse said he wanted to send a message about working together to address KSU's problems.

"It takes everybody on this campus to do what we need to do to improve it," he said. "This is one way of showing employees on the lower end of the pay scale that they are important as well."

Burse said this wasn't a publicity stunt, nor was he trying to send a message to other university presidents. "I was in a position where I could do that," he said. "That is not always the case."

It's also not always the case that public universities honor the notion that they exist to lift us all up, even campus workers who are doing what may be considered menial jobs.

To the contrary, the trend has been to outsource jobs not directly connected to teaching and research. That relieves schools from the cost of extending their comparatively generous retirement and other benefits to low-paid staff.

Burse' generous, thoughtful action recognizes that all honest work is valuable and should be valued.

It's a lesson all public university presidents should take to heart.