The Highlands University Board of Regents voted unanimously last week to hike President Jim Fries’ pay from $175,874 to $232,000 a year.
For his part, Fries seemed almost taken aback by the amount of the increase.
“I’m both humbled and extremely appreciative of the vote of confidence from the board that this represents. I plan to do everything I possibly can to make us a better university at which students create their own futures,” Fries told the Optic.
Officials said Fries’ pay would now be comparable to other state university presidents.
Regent Jesus Lopez made the motion for the pay raise during Friday’s regular meeting.
“I think the regents have collectively been evaluating Dr. Fries in executive session for many months, and we’ve been evaluating him individually in our own minds every day. We felt he deserved an increase; he’s presently the lowest paid president in an institution of higher education in the entire state. So this will bring him up to par with the other like-sized institutions,” Lopez said.
Lopez said he hopes Fries will be at Highlands for a long time to come, but another factor in the decision was that the president’s salary should be competitive, so when Fries leaves, other future applicants would find the salary attractive.
“He has done such a great job in bringing stability and continuity to the university, and that’s what we need right now. We’re still on a road that requires a lot of work and he’s doing that every day and long into the night. I think the students, faculty, staff and certainly the board are pleased with him, and that’s the thinking that went into it,” Lopez said.
Regents Chairman Javier Gonzales agreed with Lopez’s assessment that Fries, during his 20-month tenure, has been able to move the university forward.
“He has restored our credibility, not only within the academic community, but also within the community, making himself available to be involved in many community events,” Gonzales said. “He has worked hard at the Legislature to make sure that those who fund the university feel confident in its leadership. I think he has done a lot to ensure stability at the administrative level, and we have a process at Highlands now that is transparent and that people can believe in.”
Regents Vice Chairwoman Nancy Long said she hoped the pay raise would keep Fries at his post for as long as possible. To laughter from the gallery, Long said, “Not that this would be the only raise we’ll give you.”
Fries turned to Long and said, “This is a darn good start.”
Long also said the pay hike was more in line with the median salary other university presidents in the state and across the nation receive.
Student Regent Sherry Salas said the student body thinks Fries is very approachable and present at many student functions. She said the president is always quick to acknowledge students by name when they work hard at completing a task.
Gonzales noted that since Fries was hired, the American Association of University Professors has lifted its censure of Highlands. “It that was really harming the reputation of this university.”
The chairman also said Highlands successfully negotiated the first faculty union contract in the state — an agreement that he said could be a model for other institutions of higher learning in the state and one that will allow Highlands to attract top-rate talent.
Finally, Gonzales said he wanted to state for the record that Fries, first and foremost, looked out for his staff.
“You have made sure that people who work for you are the ones who got their pay raises even before you asked for one. And the record should reflect that we had to kind of kick you and pull you into the room to even talk about a pay increase because it’s not something you really wanted to talk about,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said there are goals associated with the agreement by which Fries will be evaluated over the next year, and the board would hold the president accountable for the delivery of those goals.