HWDI: Housing Benefits for Administrators

Hello all. Hope everyone is well. My apologies. I haven’t posted here in awhile. Lucky for me, it’s fall break at Webster University. I’m hopped up on gas station coffee and ready to write.

Let’s talk about where and how your university administrators live. Some colleges pull out all of the stops for their top employees: free housing, maid service and security guards. It’s doubtful your university wants this information on the front page of the campus newspaper, so you can’t expect much help the PR office. But a simple check of your university’s 990 Form can tell you about these benefits and which administrators are receiving them.

Be careful, though, because the information will not be current. At Webster, 2011 pay data was only released last May, per government filing. So how did we cover a breaking story about our provost moving into a university house? First, non-Gorloks, follow me into the time machine.

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Okay, maybe not that far back.

In Sept. 2011, Webster University purchased a two-story house down the road from the university for $385,000. The purchase wasn’t initially suspicious. The university has been buying houses in the city for over four decades now, much to the chagrin of some residents. But sources told The Journal about rumors the home had been purchased for the provost.

A reporter posed the rumors to the PR office and received a half answer; the university would put the house on the rental market, and if an administrator moved in, so be it. Renovations to the house, however, raised skepticism among editors like myself. From a building permit, we learned the university had installed a wheelchair ramp, as well as new flooring and carpet.

We began to routinely request the occupancy permits for the property. As soon as someone moved into the property, The Journal would know.

And so, after a long summer of irritating the assistant to the city clerk, we caught a break. Yes, the provost would be moving into this house, purchased amid warnings from top brass that the university was in danger of a budget shortfall.

We had many questions for the provost, but the university refused to answer anything beyond a short statement. So we turned to the most recent 990 Form to learn what the university might be paying for the house (a $15,000 housing allowance in 2011). But other questions remained, like how common is it for a university to offer housing benefits to non-presidents?

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Infographic by the talented Victoria Courtney

For those who don’t know, it’s  a common practice in academia to provide housing to a college president, free of charge. Less has been written, however, on the housing benefits to lower administrators. In need of an answer, I elected to create a database of housing benefits for 100 colleges with similar pay structures to Webster. I chose colleges based how much they paid their presidents, with 50 presidents who were paid more than Webster’s prez and 50 who were paid less. H/t to the Chronicle of Education, which put a list together in 2011.

It took about six hours and another three to check my work, but eventually I found an answer I was comfortable with in the data. Out of 100 colleges, 24 offered some sort of housing benefit to a top employee. And out of the 24, nine were provosts or chief academic officers like the one at Webster.

You can view a database of the information here, created with Tableau Public.

Well, that’s all for now. Thanks for reading. And if you have any questions, email me at danbauman77@gmail.com

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