Piano virtuoso Vladimir Feltsman has been drawing attention all over New York state in recent weeks -- although not for the usual reasons.
The former Soviet dissident, now a music professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz, has been seized on as a symbol of questionable spending at the public institution by New York Gov. George Pataki.
It's a reminder of bad times for Mr. Feltsman, who lived in virtual exile in the Soviet Union when he applied to emigrate to Israel in 1979. He was allowed to leave for the United States in 1987 and gave his first concert at the White House when President Reagan was in office.
''I thought I was through with that in Russia,'' Feltsman said in an interview after a concert appearance in Seattle.
Feltsman landed a teaching job at SUNY soon after arriving in the US. He is paid $101,854 a year to teach music at two SUNY campuses to students who must pass auditions. He teaches 13 individual class sessions per semester, each at a little more than three hours.
New York's new Republican governor is involved in a political fight over his efforts to cut back funding to SUNY, the nation's largest public-university system. At several recent public appearances, Pataki has questioned whether SUNY has too many highly paid professors who don't teach enough. Without mentioning Feltsman by name, he criticized SUNY for having a music professor at New Paltz who ''gets paid $1,000 an hour to teach.''
Feltsman is one of 620 professors making more than $100,000 at the 34-campus State University of New York system, according to a review of payroll records by the Associated Press.
The ''star system'' of well-paid professors who concentrate more on research than teaching is prevalent at many colleges. But some of Pataki's Republican allies question whether it is appropriate during a time that New York is facing a $5 billion deficit.
SUNY administrators contend they have fewer well-paid stars than many colleges. And they bristle at the idea of measuring the value of faculty members such as Feltsman strictly on the basis of how many hours they teach.
Peter Alexander, dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts at the New Paltz campus where Feltsman is based, says Feltsman is a drawing card.