MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Now we're going to hear from a university president who is cutting his pay by 25 percent. He's taking $90,000 off his own salary, and he's going to use that money to raise the pay of university employees who make under $10 and 25 cents an hour. He is Raymond Burse, the interim president at Kentucky State University, and he joins me now. President Burse, welcome to the program.
RAYMOND BURSE: Well, thank you.
BLOCK: And what gave you this idea in the first place - to cut your own salary and boost the pay of the lowest paid workers at your school?
BURSE: This is something I've been thinking about for a while. I wanted the lower-end employees, you know, to be invested in the things that we were going to do and tried to do at Kentucky State. And so I thought doing that was one way of getting them to reinvest and recommit to the institution.
BLOCK: You said this is something you've been thinking about for a while. Why has it been on your mind? What have you been thinking about, specifically?
BURSE: Well, you know, I think there's been a lot of debate across the country around minimum wage - what it should be or shouldn't be. This was an opportunity - I'm coming back in to head an organization and, you know - where our employees - those who were making $7 and 25 cents an hour - where they could really afford to do the things you want to do in life in terms of supporting themselves, buying food or just doing medicine - you know, those sort of basic essentials. And I thought, you know, here I am now in a position where I can do something.
BLOCK: How many workers will this affect, and what do they do at Kentucky State?
BURSE: It effects 24 employees at the institution, and they do a variety of jobs. Primarily they are the groundskeeper, the custodian, and some lower-level clerical or individuals.
BLOCK: Let's talk just a bit about your own background here. You were the president at Kentucky State also back in the 1980s - later a corporate lawyer and senior executive at GE and then retired. So I'm going to assume that you are comfortably well-off and could afford to take a $90,000 pay cut.
BURSE: Well, I was - I am - I am and was in a position to be able to do that. You know, the years at GE and the GE experience - the GE retirement has done well by me.
BLOCK: Well, how did you figure out where to stop? You're still going to be making about $260,000 a year. Did you think about going even further?
BURSE: I guess I never thought about going any further or doing anymore. You know, in my mind I was prepared to go to whatever the number would be to get those employees up to $10 and 25 cents an hour.
BLOCK: President Burse, if you think way back, can you remember a time when you were working at any minimum-wage jobs?
BURSE: Oh I had minimum-wage jobs. I can think back to the years when I was a teenager. And in fact, even after I was named a Rhodes scholar who spent my first year at Oxford University that summer, I worked a minimum wage job. So I am very, very aware of all of that.
BLOCK: What were those jobs?
BURSE: I was a laborer for a paving company back that summer after my first year at Oxford.
BLOCK: And before that?
BURSE: I was a caddie at a golf course. I was a worker on the golf course. You know, I mowed greens, cut fairways. You know, I did a number of things. Whatever labor you would need to be doing on a golf course I did at the minimum wage.
BLOCK: And do you remember what minimum wage was back then?
BURSE: I'm thinking we made - either it was a buck 75 or $2.25. It wasn't much.
BLOCK: How did that strike you back then?
BURSE: Well, for me who had barely anything, you know, making that money was like striking a gold mine for me. You know, I worked for it, was proud to work. I worked hard for it, and it made a difference in my life.
BLOCK: Well, President Burse, thanks so much for talking for us.
BURSE: Well, thank you for having me.
BLOCK: That's Raymond Burse, the interim president of Kentucky State University. He's cutting his salary by 25 percent - that's $90,000 - in order to raise the pay of the university's lowest paid workers to $10.25 an hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.