At the same time as reports of students graduating with five to six figures of debt from loans have become commonplace, the presidents of public institutions of higher learning have seen their salaries increase according to statistics released by the Chronicle of Higher Education. On average, the salary for 199 college presidents surveyed was $421,395, an increase of 2.9 % from 2009-10. Their median base pay, $383,800, also increased, by 1.3%.
Three college presidents — that is, chief executives — received more than $1 million in total compensation for 2010-2011. E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University, made $1,992,221; Michael D. McKinney, the former president of the Texas A & M University System, made $1,966,347; Graham B. Spanier, the former president of Pennsylvania State University who resigned after the sexual abuse scandal involving football coach Jerry Sandusky, made $1,068,763.
Most public university presidents earn two to four times as much pay as full professors, the Chronicle of Higher Education also notes. Some presidents earn as much as six times what full professors make.
With college students protesting increases in tuition that have, in some cases, made the cost of college tuition at public institutions creep closer to that of private ones, the rise in executive pay has indeed become a “volatile” issue, as the New York Times puts it. In an analysis, the Chronicle of Higher Education describes how college president compensation has become a “potent political target” particularly in the California State University system:
Criticism of presidential pay on Cal Stateís 23 campuses has increased in tandem with crippling budget cuts and rising tuition, and the stateís fiscal situation looks ever more bleak. Californiaís projected budget gap has grown to $15.7-billion, up from a January estimate of $9.2-billion.
The outcry over presidential pay at Cal State reached a crescendo last July, when Elliot Hirshman, former provost of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, was named president of San Diego State University and given a $400,000 salary, which was 33 percent higher than that of his predecessor.
Governor Jerry Brown, now facing what may be a budget gap of more than $17 billion that portends steep cuts to the state’s higher education system, has been among those citing Hirshman’s pay as a “symbol of excess at a time of austerity.”
In January, criticism from students and lawmakers led to the Cal State’s board adopting a policy that the pay of incoming presidents be capped at 10 percent more than their predecessorís compensation. Some in the higher education business (because higher education is a business, lofty pronouncements about service and making public education accessible to all aside), argue that setting such limits on the salaries of state university presidents is not “going to work in a capitalist society,” as Raymond D. Cotton, a lawyer in Washington who specializes in presidential contracts, says to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Cotton and others argue that setting limits on presidential pay would mean that public universities would no longer be able to hire the best-qualified candidates to fill executive positions.
I donít think thereís any question that on a lot of campuses facing budget cuts, there is a sense that the president is insulated from the experience. … Even though Cal State isnít in the top tier of pay, thereís a lot of talk about what it means for the president to make six figures when the faculty hasnít had raises in years, tuition is increasing and people are losing their jobs.
Indeed: What is missing in defenses of higher executive pay at public universities is a real acknowledgement of the costs that other parts of the unviersity community, especially faculty and especially students have found themselves facing.
“Nobody went into public higher education, at least not me, to get rich,” Eric W. Kaler, president of the University of Minnesota, is quoted as saying at the end of the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s analysis of presidential pay. True: But when you consider that Kaler is making $642,500 in salary and retirement contributions this year (a sum that is, admittedly, less than what his predecessor, Robert H. Bruininks, earned in 2010-11), it is quite apparent that those who inhabit certain corridors of higher education are “benefiting” more than others.
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