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Woodworking column: 'A million here, a million there'

I think it was the late Illinois senator Everett Dirksen who said you spend a million here, a million there and before you know it you're talking REAL money."

Oleaginous Ev wasn't just whistling the "Illinois Fight Song." Back when he held sway, I got my first teaching job out of grad school. I got lucky and landed an instructorship at Augustana College, in Ev's home state. Augustana was a fine small liberal arts school and boasted a president who served for 30-plus years as a kind, generous and accomplished leader. Konrad John Emmanuel Bergendoff was an eloquent poet, a leader in the Swedish-American Lutheran church. He had friends in high places, folks like Carl Sandburg, Mark Van Doren, and thinkers from all over the world who dropped in and marveled at his wit and intelligence.

As I recall, Bergendoff's salary was about $8,000 per year and a presidential mansion to live and entertain in. Occasionally, a grateful alumnus would present him with a new auto. Wags said he made less than a rank and file worker at the International Harvester manure spreader works, which was across the street from the college in Rock Island, Illinois, then known as the farm machinery capital of the world. But no one ever thought to complain, including the faculty, most of whom earned half as much as the silver-maned Bergendoff.

Bergendoff lived to be 100. Were he still alive he'd be bemused at what private college presidents earn in our brave new 21st century world.

Each year the Minneapolis Star Tribune publishes the salaries paid to leaders of the top 100 non-profit institutions in Minnesota. Most of the private colleges in the state make the list.

One such college is Gustavus Adolphus, a Swedish sister college of Augustana. Last month the Tribune reported that its president Rebecca Bergman earned $437,482 and that's just the tip of the iceberg. In Northfield, Carleton College president Steven Poskanzer earns $564,140. Next door at St. Olaf president David Anderson receives $402,449. St. Olaf's less wealthy cousin in Minneapolis, Augsburg, pays its president, Paul Pribbenow $372,866.

Remember Augustana? Where teachers earned half as much as the president? If the ratio were still true, most of Augsburg's profs should each be earning $186,433. I asked several of my old friends from Augsburg if such were the case. They replied "Most assuredly not."

Let's travel to the Saintly City across the Mississippi. Macalester's prexy Brian Rosenberg leads the entire pack with $770,925. Hamline's new president Fayneese Miller worked one half year and earned $224,574. Years back when the private schools were struggling, someone suggested that it would be economically wise for Hamline and Macalester to merge.

What to call it? President Charles Bailey of Hamline had the answer: "Hamster." But those bad old days are apparently gone. University of St. Thomas is right behind Macalester. President Julie Sullivan earns $715,152. At other Roman Catholic campuses presidents are drawing well over twice as much as professors earn.

Many years ago, I interviewed the nun who was president of St. Benedict's and asked her to quote me her salary. She said, "I have no idea. I'll go and ask the bursar." She came back with the news she earned $20,000, "which I donate to the college." Today College of St. Benedict lay president Mary Dana Hinton earns $408,369 and George Goodwin is paid $442,318 by St. Scholastica. St. John's president Michael Hemesath earns $410,950.

At the bottom of the pack is St. Mary's of Minnesota, who hands over a wad of $19,601 to its president, BROTHER William Mann.

Things could be worse. My uncle Mike struggled his way through a B.S. and M.A. to become a high school principal in North Dakota during the great Depression. After two years, he couldn't support Aunt Alma and cousin Billy, so he quit and joined the army.

Uncle Mike should have taken a shot at two Minneapolis private high schools. Blake pays $530,324 and Breck does its rival $10,000 better with $540,489.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.