No one can say that Raymond Burse doesn’t put his money where his principles are. The interim president of Kentucky State University, a former vice president for General Electric, was concerned to learn that the school’s lowest-paid employees were making only $7.25 an hour. So he asked the board to cut his own salary by $90,000 — a 25 percent reduction — and use the money to boost the workers’ hourly pay to $10.25.
Burse’s generosity is a shining example of walking the walk. Many people decry inequality, but it is a rare soul indeed who gives up a quarter of his paycheck so janitors and groundskeepers can get a raise. “I didn’t do it to be an example to anyone else,” Burse said. “I did it to do right by the employees here.” Since he is already collecting a generous pension, he explained, he could afford the hit to his pay.
The average salary for public university presidents was more than $540,000 in 2012, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. At nearly $350,000, Burse’s paycheck was below average even before sharing his salary with Kentucky State’s minimum-wage workers. Now it is lower still. But as a result, two dozen employees at the very bottom of the university’s economic ladder are taking home more money — and an educator grateful for his personal success has taught a lesson in what “paying it forward” really means.