Gov. Rick Scott has posted the salaries of employees at all of Florida's 11 public universities — a move some faculty leaders say is pointed at professors and meant to make universities appear wasteful.
A spokesman for Scott said the online posting was simply an attempt to be transparent about how public money is spent.
Professor pay is one of the issues Scott wants to target as he pushes to overhaul higher education in Florida during the legislative session that begins in January. He has been considering dramatic reforms intended to save money and boost professor productivity.
Scott's office posted the names and salaries of the university system's 50,000-plus employees on a website called "Florida Has A Right to Know," which already features pay data for employees at most state agencies.
The website was created shortly after Scott took office, said spokesman Lane Wright.
"The governor feels like there needs to be transparency, and this is one way he's made getting access to these public records easy for everybody," Wright said.
But faculty leaders such as Tom Auxter, president of United Faculty of Florida, pointed out that the database is misleading in that it doesn't attempt to explain why about 20 professors make more than $500,000 a year.
He and others worry the public will focus on the high dollar amounts and overlook that fact that the average pay of professors ranges between $60,000 and $90,000, depending on the school, according to the American Association of University Professors.
Many of the higher-paying professors, Auxter said, are working physicians who teach in the medical schools. Some professors are paid more because they also have administrative positions.
Some are paid large salaries because they bring in significant amounts of money through grants and other revenue sources for research. These other sources often provide at least part of their income, a fact that can easily be overlooked when reading the governor's online database.
"My feeling is he is on a systematic campaign of distorting the evidence about higher education funding to serve his own purposes," Auxter said.
On Tuesday, employees criticized the database, pointing out errors and the fact that some people are listed more than once with different income amounts. Some forms of compensation aren't included.
Salaries vary widely among instructors and professors. One full-time instructor at the University of South Florida makes $20,000 a year, for example. The highest paid professor in the entire database is Neil Fenske, who is chairman of USF's Department of Dermatology and makes $1.2 million per year.
Fenske also was named by Women's Health magazine as one of the top 17 dermatologists for women in the nation in 2008, according to USF's website.
At the University of Central Florida, Deborah German, a Harvard-trained rheumatologist and dean of the College of Medicine, earns one of the highest salaries there at almost $446,000. That compares to the lowest full-time salary listed at UCF — a culinary assistant who makes $20,200.
An official at the University of Florida in Gainesville sent an email to staff members Monday warning them to expect questions from the media about the salary data.
UF professor William Friedman is the second-highest-paid university employee. He earns about $808,000 as UF's director of the Preston Wells Center for Brain Tumor Therapy.
A UF spokeswoman said the university works to draw top doctors, whose academic salaries often lag behind what they would earn in a private practice. She also stressed that only some state money is used to cover their paychecks.
"At UF's College of Medicine, only about 9 percent of the college's budget comes from the state," said spokeswoman Janine Sikes.
This isn't the first time professor pay information has been listed on the Internet.
What might be disconcerting to some employees, said USF math professor Gregory McColm, is that the release of this most recent database comes on the heels of weeks of criticism of higher education by Scott.
Last week, Florida became the center of national attention after Scott announced he wanted universities to focus more on producing graduates in science and technology and less on the liberal arts.
In recent months Scott has been exploring changes being discussed in Texas that, among other goals, would tie professors' pay to the number of students they teach and how well they do on student-satisfaction surveys.
He has been quietly promoting the ideas among candidates he's considering appointing to college boards of trustees.
McColm said this most recent move will be seen by some as an attack.
"It's not so much the posting of the salaries as much as the big hullabaloo over it," said McColm, secretary of the USF faculty union. "I don't think university professors enjoy being attacked any more than anyone else."
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