Kelly: Vizzini’s paid leave isn’t in Wichita State’s best interest

Tony+Vizzini+will+receive+his+full+six-figure+salary+this+year+while+he+continues+to+job+hunt.+

Matt Crow

Tony Vizzini will receive his full six-figure salary this year while he continues to job hunt.

When the Kansas Board of Regents approved a 2 percent raise for university presidents in 2015, John Bardo and four others declined the offer, expressing discomfort with accepting more money for themselves when limited resources ruled out raises for faculty and staff members.

After three more years of state leaders neglecting to invest in higher education, Kansas universities are still cutting corners — hiking tuition and fees and holding out on those raises for most professors.

A Regents report this month showed that the state’s academics still make decidedly less than professors at competing public institutions. The pay gap of over $20,000 between Wichita State and competing schools is wider than that at any of the other five Kansas institutions in the report.

Which is why it stands out when WSU is seemingly giving money away.

Earlier this month, WSU announced that Provost and Senior Vice President Tony Vizzini will go on paid leave this spring, “to focus on his professional goals.”

That means Vizzini, who is in his fifth year at WSU, will continue to receive his $297,353 salary, even though he “will not be involved in daily operations” at the university, according to the announcement. Vizzini has actively been job hunting since last spring while participating in daily operations at WSU.

And that’s absolutely his prerogative.

As Bardo put it in the announcement, “Vizzini is in his fifth year as chief academic officer, which is a normal career point to consider new positions.”

But that doesn’t mean WSU is obligated to pay him six figures while he looks for his next gig.

The Regents policy accounts for paid leave “in order to fulfill jury duty, National Guard duty, or other civic obligations.” “Professional goals” are nowhere to be found in the policy, but Bardo can award paid leave at his discretion if it is “in the best interest of the university,” Joe Kleinsasser, director of news and media relations, told The Sunflower.

Vizzini’s salary is paid through taxpayer funds and tuition — tuition that has continued to rise each year as Kansas universities compensate for a lack of funding.

If Vizzini will not be contributing to WSU in a meaningful way this semester, there must be another reason why it is “in the best interest of the university” to pay him the entirety of his salary.

In a written statement, Bardo called Vizzini “a wonderful colleague,” and said he has “treasured his leadership, critical thinking, enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit.”

That could lead one to reasonably believe Vizzini’s paid leave has been awarded as a token of gratitude for his service to the university. And I’m sure students would be glad to know their tuition is going to show that gratitude, were they not too busy deciding if they can afford both their textbooks and a parking pass this semester.”

That could lead one to reasonably believe Vizzini’s paid leave has been awarded as a token of gratitude for his service to the university.

And I’m sure students would be glad to know their tuition is going to show that gratitude, were they not too busy deciding if they can afford both their textbooks and a parking pass this semester.

Bardo himself is no stranger to sticking around on university payroll after making it clear he’s ready to move on.

According to the Smoky Mountain News, after retiring as chancellor of Western Carolina University in 2011, Bardo continued to make his full salary of $280,000 for the next year while conducting research. Bardo also received retirement and health insurance, despite surrendering his university-provided car and free house.

Drawing on his past experience, it makes sense that Bardo, who respects Vizzini as a colleague and wishes him the best in his professional pursuits, might want to award him paid leave.

But when you consider the financial state of higher education in Kansas and the fact that the median salary in the U.S. is between $59,000 and $73,000, shelling out the rest of Vizzini’s $297,353 seems excessive.

As president, Bardo is called to act in the best interest of the university. As an academic officer with high aspirations, Vizzini has decided to act in the best interest of his professional goals.

It doesn’t have to be an ugly breakup, but if Vizzini’s moving on, so should WSU.