Leaders typically live in glass houses, subject to scrutiny on a daily basis. Effective leaders learn quickly that if you can’t explain what you are doing, you had best stop doing it sooner rather than later.
A year after I became chancellor, legislative questions were raised about higher education administrative salaries in general. My counterpart at UT and I, along with the chairmen of our respective boards, were summoned before the Senate Education Committee to explain salary policy. In the course of the debate, my longtime friend, Senator Tommy Burks, made a compelling observation. He said, and I shall never forget, that the $18,000 expense allowance awarded to both the UT president and myself was greater than the per capita income of the people he represented in his Senate district. My first thought was that the senator had just succeeded in the game of “gotcha.”
For several days, I agonized over the senator’s comment, but from the beginning, I had known in my heart that action was necessary. The situation reminded of a lesson my father had taught me when I was a child: If you can’t explain it, don’t do it.
Against the best advice of my staff and many of my board members (as well as my counterpart at UT), I recommended to the board that the expense allowance be eliminated. In one swift action, I took a salary reduction of $18,000, but my conscience was cleared, and defending the indefensible was removed from the agenda.
Such is life in the fishbowl.
-adapted from Journal of a Fast Track Life © 2018 Charles E. Smith. All rights reserved.
Top photo courtesty of Hans at Pixabay.com
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