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Former NDSU provosts still among top earners on campus

FARGO - At North Dakota State University, the position of provost is a demanding one. As the school's second-in-command, the provost oversees other top administrators and carries out the president's vision for the university. "That is a freaking ...

954673+071014.N.FF_.PROVOSTPAY Schnell.jpg
Craig Schnell


FARGO – At North Dakota State University, the position of provost is a demanding one. As the school’s second-in-command, the provost oversees other top administrators and carries out the president’s vision for the university.

“That is a freaking hard job,” observed Dennis Cooley, a professor of philosophy and ethics.

With the tough job of provost comes one of the highest salaries on most campuses. But at NDSU, both former provosts still on faculty continue to draw some of the school’s top salaries.


NDSU’s new provost, Beth Ingram, started Monday with an annual wage of $286,809, second only to President Dean Bresciani. Ingram, formerly an economics professor and associate provost at the University of Iowa, will be earning almost the same as her predecessor, Bruce Rafert, whose salary was a dollar less at $286,808.

Now that Rafert has left the provost’s office, he will focus on his work as a physics professor and researcher for NDSU. He won’t have the responsibility of provost, yet he’ll continue to be among the top 10 earners at NDSU. Similarly, the provost who served before Rafert, Craig Schnell, now works as a professor of pharmaceutical science and receives a salary comparable to what he earned as provost.

The university maintains that the past two provosts, Rafert and Schnell, are worth what they’re paid, but their current salaries as professors have been hard for some to stomach.

“The university system and universities individually do not do a good job showing what kind of value they’re getting for these salaries,” said Dustin Gawrylow, managing director of the North Dakota Watchdog Network. “This is a policy issue. It’s not about one person or another who fills that position because it’s not their fault the policy of the school is to do these sorts of things.”

Rafert, who took over for Schnell in 2011, will keep receiving his provost salary until September, when it will drop to $234,661, placing him ninth on the current list of top earners. Despite the drop in annual salary, Rafert will receive a 9 percent raise in monthly salary because as provost he was under a 12-month contract and as professor he’ll soon have a nine-month contract.

Schnell was provost from 2002 to 2011. He started with a salary of $142,605 and left making $235,254 under a 12-month contract. Now, he earns $200,008 under a nine-month contract, and he’ll receive a $3,000 raise in August. Currently, Schnell makes the most among employees with contracts of less than 12 months, according to NDSU.

Bresciani said NDSU is no different from other colleges in allowing academic administrators, like Rafert and Schnell, to leave their posts, return to professorial roles and be “compensated at the level of a senior faculty member in your field of study,” he said.

However, Rafert makes considerably more than the head of the physics department, who earns $102,849 under an 11-month contract. Likewise, Schnell makes more than the chair of the pharmaceutical sciences department, who earns $185,277 under an 11-month contract, according to NDSU.


Still, Bresciani believes the salaries of Schnell and Rafert are appropriate.

“We’re competing against every other college and university in the nation, and so we look at the person’s resume and their portfolio of accomplishments and what the market is paying other faculty or administrators,” the president said. “If we offer a salary that doesn’t even come close to the marketplace, nobody would ever take a job here.”

Bresciani said Rafert and Schnell are not simply teaching undergraduate courses, but that both continue to fulfill administrative duties while mainly teaching and researching. Also, the president touted the hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that Rafert has brought to NDSU to fund his research.

“When he gets up to speed, he will probably be bringing in millions of dollars in grants,” Bresciani said of Rafert.

Bresciani described Rafert as a nationally known, top-tier researcher whose focus is hyperspectral imaging and its ability to remotely monitor, among other things, the stresses that semis place on roads in an oil patch.

In an email, Rafert wrote that his research could have huge potential paybacks for North Dakota and elsewhere. Rafert says he’s also “beginning to work to develop new online courses in remote sensing for transportation professionals across the mountain plains area and beyond.”

Phone and email messages left for Schnell on Wednesday were not returned.

In Rafert’s new role, he will work with the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at its Denver office, Bresciani said. “I know it sounds weird that we’ve got a faculty member in Colorado, but we’ve got faculty members all over the world,” he said.


Bresciani says research grants generate a great deal of money for NDSU and offer the benefits of “better faculty, more research going on, more resources, more jobs.” But Gawrylow questions whether such grants actually reduce costs for students, parents and taxpayers.

“We shouldn’t be taxing the public or raising tuition so that somebody can bring in a big grant,” Gawrylow said.

Sam Dunietz, a researcher for the American Association of University Professors, said professors in science and technology fields, like Schnell and Rafert, usually earn more than, say, humanities professors. Still, Schnell and Rafert “are making much higher than the average for NDSU,” Dunietz said.

At NDSU, the average salary of a full professor was $108,000 for the 2013-14 school year, Dunietz said. The pay for NDSU’s professors and instructors ranks in the 20th to 40th percentile compared with salaries at other universities that grant doctorate degrees, he said.

In the eyes of Cooley, the philosophy and ethics professor, the salaries of Schnell and Rafert are not startling.

“I know that looks like a lot of money, and it is,” said Cooley, a member of the Faculty Senate. “But at the same time, that’s the level that they’ve obtained in their professional careers.”

Birgit Pruess, a microbiology professor who’s president of the Faculty Senate, said in an email that she’s undecided on what to think of the salaries of Rafert and Schnell. She believes both men have done exceptional work, but she noted that NDSU has many excellent faculty members, the vast majority of whom make significantly less money.

“NDSU now pays close to 3 salaries at Provost scale and only has one Provost in office,” she wrote.


North Dakota State University Provost Bruce Rafert
Bruce Rafert

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