Class Struggle

UT Big Wheels' Perks Outweigh Staff's Paychecks

photograph by John Anderson

Shed no tears for Tom Penders. Sure, he lost his job as the head basketball coach at the University of Texas. But he got a $643,000 going away present and, as an extra bonus, he gets to keep his membership at Barton Creek Country Club. Don't cry for John Mackovic, either. He lost his job as UT's football coach four months ago, but he, too, gets to maintain his membership at the exclusive country club on Barton Creek, a membership that at present would cost $38,000 to obtain, apart from the annual dues. The two ex-coaches are among at least 50 athletic department officials who have private club memberships provided to them by UT. At a time when university staff members are staging protests over inadequate pay, the athletic department is spending thousands of dollars per month on such memberships. According to documents obtained by The Austin Chronicle under the Texas Open Records Act, 48 members of the UT Athletic Department were given paid memberships at the Hills of Lakeway Country Club between September 1996 and March 1997, the most recent period for which figures were available. (An article in the April 19 edition of the Austin American-Statesman listed that number as 54.) Another 42 officials - including new basketball coach Rick Barnes, whose annual salary is $700,000, and new football coach Mack Brown, who makes $750,000 a year - are equipped with memberships at Barton Creek Country Club. A handful of others are given memberships at other private clubs as well. Overall, assuming the daily's numbers are correct, the UT athletic department is spending at least $9,400 per month on such memberships.

UT Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds defends the club expenditures, saying they are an essential part of attracting coaches and other personnel to the school. "It's the marketplace we live in," said Dodds. But in a random survey of schools with strong athletic departments, the Chronicle found that UT is spending about three times as much on club memberships as its Big 12 Conference rivals, the University of Nebraska and Texas A&M University. And nationwide, none of the three schools we contacted - the University of North Carolina, the University of Florida, and the University of Michigan, this year's national champion in football - offer any club memberships for their athletic department personnel (see "Big Spender")

While the athletic department spends more than $9,000 a month for memberships at country clubs, top administrators at both UT-Austin and the UT System are also reaping the private club perks. Documents show that UT-Austin is spending $1,500 per month on 19 memberships at the Headliners Club for its deans and upper-level managers, including the school's president and various vice presidents. And documents obtained under open records show the UT System spending $1,920 a month on memberships for 10 System employees. Mike Millsap, UT's vice chancellor for governmental relations, enjoys paid memberships at three clubs - Barton Creek, Headliners, and The Austin Club, while UT Chancellor William Cunningham holds seven club memberships.

So during an average month, UT entities spend at least $12,420 on memberships at clubs that are not open to the public. And that figure does not reflect what school officials may be spending on food, drinks, golf fees, and other activities at these clubs. Documents obtained by the Chronicle indicate that athletic department personnel alone spent more than $21,000 on golf outings, food, and drinks at Barton Creek Country Club during a 13-month period between September 1990 and November 1991.

The Have Nots

The private club expenditures are coming to light at a time when UT staff members are in a furor over their substandard salaries. A survey conducted last year by St. Louis-based Buck Consultants found substantial evidence of UT parsimony where staff salaries were concerned. The study revealed that 94% of UT staffers are paid less-than-average wages when compared with the rest of the Austin market. Office and administrative assistants at UT earn, on average, only 70% of what non-UT employees in comparable positions are paid. The study found that UT library workers face the greatest income disparity when compared with non-UT employees. According to the study, a library assistant at UT makes an average of $15,212 a year. A comparable position elsewhere in the Austin market pays an average of $25,403.

New UT President Larry Faulkner, who said he is being provided with memberships at the Headliners Club and Barton Creek Country Club, believes schools such as UT should use private memberships "in moderation." He continued, "There's no question the president has to deal with people in private settings, settings that can be confidential. And clubs are useful for that," Faulkner told the Chronicle during a brief phone interview last week. "Whether it's more appropriate to pay me a salary that allows me to pay those bills, or to include those memberships and have them paid for by the university is something that could be argued about."

Faulkner, who held a private club membership during his tenure at the University of Illinois, went on to defend the athletic department's use of private clubs. "What is happening with respect to club memberships in the athletic department is not particularly of concern to me with respect to the salary situation on campus. I don't believe that money could be viewed as a source for solving this problem anyway."

"It's a Farce"

While Faulkner seems to take the private membership issue in stride, the whole matter infuriates State Rep. Glen Maxey (D-Austin), who introduced a bill during the last Legislative session that would have banned state-supported schools from using any funds to pay for memberships at private clubs. "I find it abhorrent," said Maxey, who has been a vocal critic of UT administrators. "This indicates to me the continuation of an attitude at the University of Texas at Austin and the UT System that educating students is not their first priority. We are paying a subsistence wage to these people who actually interact with students on a daily basis while we raise the salary of [UT System Chancellor] Bill Cunningham and give private club memberships to top administrators. In my mind, it's a farce when UT folks sit down at the Legislature and cry there's not enough money. There's money all over the university system: It's in the back pockets of people who are making adequate salaries."

Ex -UT coaches John Mackovic and Tom Penders may not have their jobs anymore, but they still have their country club memberships, courtesy of the UT Athletic Department.

Maxey's effort to prevent state schools from buying private club memberships for their employees didn't get far. His bill died in committee, and he isn't sure that he will bring the issue up again during the next session because, as he explains, "When you are going against the power structure, nobody wants to upset the people in power."

UT officials, however, say the discussion of private club memberships is misleading, particularly when it comes to the athletic department. "The law sets these up almost like free-standing businesses," explains Lee Smith, an associate vice president for business affairs at UT. Smith says neither the UT administration nor the athletic department uses state-appropriated money on the private club memberships. Instead, the money comes from "institutional funds," meaning the money is raised by each entity separately. That is, the athletic department may raise the money for the private club memberships from individual donors and therefore spend the money however it chooses. Smith used a shopping mall analogy to make his point. "You could have in a mall a Gap store that's doing really well. But they could be next to a Sunglass Hut whose employees aren't being paid very well."

And Grant Teaff, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association in Waco, says coaches of major college sports have been getting memberships to country clubs for as long as he can remember. "I think it's relatively common," said Teaff, who coached football at Baylor University for 21 years. Teaff recalled a time in 1966 when, as an assistant coach at Texas Tech University, he would play golf with the school's head coach at a private country club in Lubbock. Private club perks have "been around for a long, long time," Teaff said. "It wouldn't surprise me that Knute Rockne, if he played golf, got to play golf at a local country club." And Teaff added, "The local established group wants the prestige of having the head coach as a member of their country club."

Teaff appears to be correct. Various news stories point out that club memberships have become a common perk for college coaches. For instance, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported last year that University of Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson, who earns about $900,000 per year, receives club memberships worth about $5,500 per year. The memberships are paid through a private foundation which is funded by the school's boosters. Club memberships, Teaff and others say, are like any other perk awarded to highly paid employees. And they say private clubs offer an opportunity for employees to meet and entertain people who have the means to provide financial support to the university. Like it or not, they say, the golf course is where a lot of business gets done, and having memberships at clubs like Barton Creek and Lakeway allows the coaches and officials like Dodds to spend time with potential donors.

Taking a Back Seat

Peg Kramer, the president of the University Staff Association, wonders why the rest of UT can't reap the benefits of hobnobbing. In Kramer's mind, the private club issue provides even more fuel to the argument that staff wages are of secondary concern to administrators. "We hear another piece of information like that and we get a little more cynical. My concern is that it's representative of what's happening all over the country. More and more money is available for executives and highly compensated people. The people that need it the least are getting the most. And the people that need it the most are getting the least."

Longtime UT library employee Glen Worley says the club membership debate underscores the belief among UT staffers that the athletic department has become too big and too powerful. "As far as we look at it, the athletic department is connected to the university in name only," he said, adding that UT's fundraisers "will go to donors to ask them for $90 million to build a new football stadium, but they won't go to donors to improve the pay and quality of the staff. And yet, we are the ones that keep the university running."

For Worley and his wife, Lisa, who also works for the UT library, the $12,400 monthly expenditures for private club memberships by UT entities represent over three times their combined monthly income. Having so many memberships for UT employees "sends the wrong message," says Worley, who readily admits that he is biased toward libraries. Worley, a 16-year UT library employee, manages the libraries' acquisitions department for an annual salary of $24,000. Lisa Worley, with 18 years of library experience, makes $18,000 a year. Glen Worley says he is continually dismayed at how little money and attention is given to the libraries, particularly when compared to the attention lavished on the athletic department. For instance, Worley says, the UT Board of Regents recently gave the library $1 million to buy new materials, but didn't provide any additional staff members or money to deal with those new materials. He points out that, according to figures from the Association of Research Libraries, UT has the sixth largest university-affiliated library (behind Harvard, Yale, Illinois, California-Berkeley, and Toronto) in North America. The UT library system is the best research facility within 1,000 miles in any direction, yet many of its employees are barely earning a living wage. In fact, some library employees are paid so poorly they qualify for food stamps. "Our combined salaries," said Worley, "are less than Cunningham's raise [of nearly $50,000]."

UT librarian Glen Worley

photograph by John Anderson

Athletic Director Dodds won't comment on staff salaries. "That's not a question I should address. That would better be addressed by somebody else," he said. As for the club memberships given to Penders and Mackovic, Dodds said the athletic department bought them for the two coaches a few years ago for $10,000 apiece. The department bought them from Freeport-McMoRan when the company sold its interest in the country club to Club Corporation. When Mackovic and Penders left their coaching jobs, the school allowed them to keep their memberships at the club.

"I'd be the first guy to say coaches get paid too much," said Dodds during an interview in his office in Bellmont Hall. "But," he added, "if we are in this kind of business we need to be competitive." And make no mistake, the athletic department is a business, with a combined budget for men's and women's athletics standing at $34.8 million. And the highest paid of the athletics employees get free automobiles. Local auto dealers currently provide 50 cars to the department, Dodds said. He says the cars - which are given to various coaches and staff members - and club memberships are essential to running the athletic department. He explains that the department can spend money for club memberships because it is self-funding. "We generate all our money," says Dodds. "The state of Texas does not support us annually in any way." And he rejects the notion that the department has grown too far away from the rest of the university. "We are not separate from the university," he said. "We are absolutely part of it. We answer to and work for the president of the university."

For outsiders like Teaff, who has spent almost his entire career in collegiate athletics, private club memberships have become a regular part of the compensation game. "It's like hiring a CEO" for a corporation, he said. "And a lot of it has to do with competition." At Division 1-A schools like UT, he says, "football and basketball are the major breadwinners. The national statistics show they bring in a lot more money than they spend." Therefore, he says, "to have successful programs and to attract the top people requires perks for the top folks."

That may be the case, but have the athletic department and the rest of the UT administration gone too far? Maxey thinks so. "We have to be competitive with other universities of similar stature around the country," says Maxey. "I just wish they used the same standard in paying teachers and staff as they do in providing golden parachutes for coaches and private club memberships and salaries for top administrators."

University staff members continue their low-wage protests with a march on Saturday, April 25. Staff members will meet at 9:30am at the Main Building on campus and then proceed to the Capitol.

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