NMU President Les Wong declined a $10,000 salary increase at the May meeting of the Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees.
Wong said the choice was easy when surveying the economic landscape, especially in Michigan.
“I believe in leading by example,” he said. “I felt honored by the board’s support, but I knew I had to do my part.
“The situation in Michigan is only going to get worse; we know that now, with GM filing for bankruptcy.”
The process for presidential salary increases involves the board’s executive committee reviewing the president’s performance and then making a recommendation based on the observations.
Trustee Stephen Adamini, who is a member of the executive committee, said he was impressed with Wong’s work over the past year.
“In (the committee’s) review of the president’s performance, I think there was some consensus that there was a general appreciation of the president’s performance,” he said.
Adamini said that he never thought that Wong would accept a raise, were the board to offer one. Still, he wanted to express his approval.
“He did not make any request of the executive committee for a raise,” Adamini said. “Based on the signals I was getting, he didn’t expect one, and he certainly wasn’t asking for one.
“When we told him, he indicated to us that he would not accept it and that really didn’t come as a surprise to me.”
Wong’s decision to forego a pay raise comes at a time when he has raised the possibility of across-the-board salary freezes. He has talked of possibly implementing such a freeze for one year to protect jobs and salaries.
“I want to compliment all our employees. We’ve been cutting budgets for seven years, and since then people have been working more. Efficiency is sky high because of hard work, and I think we need to protect what we have. All industries around us have already cut budgets and positions and salaries.”
Adamini said that he was impressed with Wong’s willingness to accept a salary freeze during this time, as well.
“You can’t lead somebody down a path you’re not willing to go down yourself,” he said. “Certainly we don’t know how hazardous the path is we’re going to have to go down this year, because the full extent of Michigan’s financial problems are not yet known.
“The earlier projections are not good and I have to believe that with the GM bankruptcy now, they are much worse. How much worse, I don’t know.”
As Wong and his staff attempt to prepare for the upcoming year, they are reliant on the state budget and on stimulus package dollars. Tuition numbers for the fall should be set sometime in July, while the university likely won’t know the official budget until September.