Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

College president's spouse: Paid professional or volunteer?

Few people can boast of having entertained 8,600 guests in a single year. Judy Ikenberry is one who can. She has also given dozens of speeches, spent weeks organizing formal affairs and elaborate dinners, managed a public building and its staff, entertained visiting dignitaries, logged thousands of miles on fund-raising trips, and served as confidante to the chief executive of a multimillion-dollar enterprise. And she has done it all for free.

A tall, outgoing woman who bubbles with enthusiasm, Mrs. Ikenberry is ``first lady'' at the University of Illinois. Her husband, Stanley Ikenberry, is president of the two-campus state university system with its 55,000 students.

About these ads

Though Mrs. Ikenberry fills a time-honored campus role -- one that can have a bearing on the selection of a university president -- hers is a job that can no longer be taken for granted. She describes the question of pay for the tasks she performs as ``the hottest issue among the spouses today, the one most talked about.

``One opinion holds that we contribute so much and do it so professionally that we should be paid for what we do, either by the president or by the state or private university payroll,'' she continues. ``My personal opinion? . . . I am proud to be a volunteer.''

Diane Skomars Magrath feels differently. ``I like to get paid for work that I do,'' says the wife of Peter Magrath, president of the University of Missouri. Mrs. Magrath is one of America's first university spouses to receive a salary for her work. Although it is a private arrangement, whereby the president pays her a percentage of his income and gives her an annual review, it is being hailed by many as a landmark step.

Ms. Magrath believes it is only a matter of time until spouses are recognized and paid as a matter of course by institutions, but ``I couldn't wait for the transition to come,'' she says.

The issue of pay for presidents' spouses is the most startling of several examined in a book recently published by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. ``The President's Spouse -- Volunteer or Volunteered,'' co-edited by Ms. Magrath and Joan Clodius, staff liaison for this association's committee of presidents' and chancellors' spouses, is based on a survey of association members. A highly readable book, it offers a variety of information, including a dozen essays by spouses on topics ranging from job functions and dual careers to family considerations.

Of the 104 spouses surveyed, 99 percent were female. Their feelings on the question of remuneration were divided sharply by age. Only one-tenth of those 50 and over desired a salary, compared with one-third of those under 50.

Molly Bartlett, whose husband, Thomas, is chancellor of the three-campus University of Alabama system, still seems to typify the attitude of most presidents' spouses around the country when she terms the idea of pay for spouses as unrealistic. ``Trustees hire a president or a chancellor, and [it's] not realistic for a spouse, whether male or female, to expect an actual salary from state funds,'' she says. ``I do not feel put upon and never have, because there are all kinds of opportunities that have opened up to us because of his [her husband's] position. . . . I do not feel it is a burden that I take on reluctantly.''

About these ads

The University of Illinois's Judy Ikenberry also seems to speak for a majority of spouses when she says: ``In my own personal growth over the years, I have found a true spirit of volunteerism. . . . There are many other volunteers within the university system, within the community, and I feel I help serve as a role model for them.''

Sue Young, whose husband, Charles, is chancellor of the University of California at Los Angeles, suggests that the division of opinion among spouses may be the result of changing values toward both volunteerism and the role of women in the work force.

In her essay on remuneration in ``The President's Spouse'' she writes: ``Perhaps . . . the time has come to put away the automatic arrangement of two for the price of one when hiring a university president and his partner. Perhaps we are in a period of transition in which the role of the presidential spouse can be individually defined and can either retain its traditional volunteer status or can make the change to paid professional.''

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.