Zellers: I goofed up — kinda — that professor pay statistic

  1. Listen Rep. Kurt Zellers explains his previous comments on faculty pay

    On today’s Midmorning with Kerri Miller

Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove), who teed off a number of Minnesota professors by saying on Monday’s Midday program that faculty have been enjoying pay raises of 20-30 percent while other folks suffer, told MPR’s Kerri Miller this morning that he’d kinda-sorta-possibly-understandably flubbed that one.

Watch his explanation. He more or less blames it on a misinterpretation of the headline, but says he read the actual article — and yet never explains how he got the 20-30 percent figure when the original story he cites never mentions it.

So first things first:

Zellers is called out on the air by a Republican professor from Bemidji named “Brian” (at the 48:56 mark). “Brian” says he’s upset that Zellers is claiming professors have received the raises, because the faculty union voted to accept a pay freeze two years ago, and professors have taken no increases since.

Zellers’ main reply is that he focused on the headline of a Sept. 2009 article by Tim Post and misinterpreted the story. (He says it was from “last fall,” but whatever.)

That piece, “MnSCU bonuses to top staffers nears $300K,” talks about bonuses given to top MnSCU officials — such as administrators and college presidents — not professors.

Zellers tells Miller:

“So, looking at the story, the headline. We Republicans are usually the first ones to complain about headlines being misleading. Looked at the story and looked at some of the bonuses, and the bonuses were for staffers, but they weren’t necessarily for professors. So I guess Brian (the caller) could say I was a little, I was probably close to misinformed … “

Zellers focuses on the headline:

“If you look at the headline, it says, ‘MnSCU staffers.Well, as a guy who went to college, I thought a professor was a part of the staff — if they are a different subset. But again, there have been bonuses, there have been bonuses paid during these tough economic times. And believe me, the only reason that I knew about it was because my constituents sent me e-mails saying, ‘Look at what is happening over here vs. what I’m seeing at home.’

But he goes on to support merit increases:

“If you do a great job and you are rewarded for that, if you have a patent, if you have reached out to new students, you’ve added classes, and the university gives you a bonus, absolutely. I have no problem with that. I was reacting to a headline that I’d read. I was reacting to some e-mails I’d received from my constituents.”

(By the way, you can read the take on this by MPR’s Bob Collins on his NewsCut blog.)

Again, you can read Post’s story here.

Any idea how Zellers pulled a 20-30 percent pay increase out of that one?

Creative math?

A mix-up involving memories of some other article that mentioned 20-30 percent increases?

Something else?