Across the UC system, Nobel laureates have seen their pay take a back seat to the funding of athletic prestige. According to the UC payroll database, the highest paid UC employee in 2010 was UC Berkeley’s head football coach Jeff Tedford, who earned $2.3 million, while the top earning Nobel laureate, UC San Francisco’s Director for the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases Dr. Stanley Prusiner, earned a total $819, 167.
While this $1.5 million discrepancy in compensation has become the norm at athletically-minded UCs such as Berkeley and UCLA, UCSB has maintained larger salaries for faculty conducting award-winning research. Currently, the highest paid employee on campus is Nobel laureate and economics professor Finn Kydland, who earned $411,333 in 2010, while the highest paid athletics personnel is Head Soccer Coach Timothy Vom Steeg, who received $111,000.
Nobel laureate and professor of computer and electrical engineering Herbert Kroemer — who was UCSB’s ninth-highest paid employee in 2010 with a salary of $305,540 — said Nobel prize-winning research has attracted productive students, marking a difference in the campus’s academic performance since it joined the UC system in 1944.
“I remember many years ago, I told my colleague at Berkeley that I was going to Santa Barbara and he simply said, ‘I hope you know what you’re doing.’ I don’t think anyone would say that today,” Kroemer said. “[Our research] probably contributes to the top students applying here for the sciences. I know that when I came here 35 years ago, that wasn’t the case, and I know the research has made a tremendous change.”
UC Office of the President spokesperson Dianne Klein said the variation in prioritization of funds among UC campuses stems from the significantly lower rate of Gauchos participating in and supporting athletics relative to schools like UC Berkeley and UCLA.
“The reality is that college football, for example, brings in a lot of money,” Klein said. “At Santa Barbara, it might be a little different; it’s not like they have high-profile football or anything at that level.”
Klein said athletics often become a high priority at many UC campuses due to the positive recognition they bring the school and the pride they give alumni, encouraging them to give back to the campus.
“Do alumni want to watch a football game or do they want to feel good about the school they went to because it had a lot of Nobel laureates?” Klein said.
However, Chancellor Henry T. Yang said the award-winning research conducted at UCSB has an invaluable effect on its institutional reputation and the satisfaction of the campus community.
“Each time one of our faculty members has won a Nobel Prize — five times in the past 13 years! — it has made our entire campus community feel so proud, elated, and inspired,” Yang said in an e-mail.
“Recognitions like Nobel Prizes also help to elevate the stature of our university immensely, and benefit our institution in every imaginable way.”
Klein said she doubted that extensive athletics funding will impact faculty compensation and quality of education as non-academic UC employees earning over $218,000 a year must have their salaries approved by the Board of Regents and coach salaries are not primarily funded by the state budget.
“With coaches, it’s a separate question altogether,” Klein said. “The department funds these athletics through various things — ticket sales, television rights, alumni donations. It’s not like there’s one pool of UC money and we’re just throwing all the money at coaches and giving laureates very little.”