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The Philanthropic President
The Philanthropic President

To fund staff raises, university chief taps his own salary

By Toni Coleman

When Raymond Burse took the helm of Kentucky State University in the summer of 2014, he cut his salary by $90,000—to fund a raise for the 24 KSU employees earning minimum wage. Boosting their hourly pay from $7.25 to $10.25 garnered major media coverage—from CBS This Morning to The Washington Post—as well as laudatory letters and unsolicited gifts. Burse explains how the move has advanced the historically black university's mission.

Why did you cut your salary?

Coming into Kentucky State, as I thought about the job I faced, the ability to get a lot of things done depended on a number of people, including the maintenance, landscaping, and custodial staff. I am a stickler for wanting things to look nice, immaculate, litter-free. I was going to push them the same way I push myself. As I thought about what I could do to indicate that they are an important part of the team and that I had high expectations for them, the raise came to mind.

Has the university benefited from the media coverage?

I thought this would only be between Kentucky State University, myself, and those employees, but it has mushroomed beyond all expectations. It's been good publicity. The caliber and quality of students we're recruiting is up, which is a good sign. We've gotten letters and contributions ranging from $10 to $1,000 from people around the world—China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, several European countries. It just shocked and surprised me, the reach that this has had.

How have alumni reacted?

They're very happy. When I travel and meet with alumni, they say, "On the day the story broke, I was sitting around with my colleagues, and I felt so proud. That's my president." They feel good about the institution, and many of them are more invested in Kentucky State and want to do more.

I understand that your contribution is part of KSU's annual fund appeal.

As it relates to the annual fund, we started a campaign during homecoming: The GIVE 9 campaign. Everybody may not be able to give $90,000, but they can give $9, $90, $900, or 99 cents. That campaign has been fairly successful.

We've seen a number of recent living-wage campaigns at universities. What advice would you give other leaders as they consider such appeals?

I wouldn't say everybody needs to imitate or emulate what I've done. What I would say is that within each of their own circumstances, there are things they can do and they ought to consider doing. It's important and valuable and sends a message to all of the people who work for us that we are engaged in this enterprise with them and that we value them.

About the Author Toni Coleman

Toni Coleman is the interim editor in chief of Currents.




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