The Chronicle Review

College Presidents' Salaries

Tim Foley for The Chronicle

February 03, 2010

Earlier this week, The Chronicle reported that the salaries of public-university leaders continued to rise in 2007-8, with the median pay for chief executives in the survey reaching $436,111. (The highest-paid president, E. Gordon Gee at Ohio State University, made more than $1.5-million, the only president in the survey to top the million-dollar figure).

Although salaries of private-college presidents are considerably higher—and the rate of increase in the public sector has slowed, with some presidents even posting a decline in compensation—the latest figures have sparked outrage in these tough economic times when many campuses face extreme budgetary crises.

Are university presidents’ salaries too high? Or are they compensated appropriately? What constitutes a fair salary? The Chronicle asked a group of scholars and experts what they thought.

Christopher Newfield, professor of English at the University of California at Santa Barbara:
Public universities should not have second- and third-class resources by comparison to their private kin. So public-university presidents should not have systematically lower salaries. Many public-university presidents manage larger and more complicated institutions than do their private counterparts. They do it with less money to go around. They have genuinely tough jobs, and that needs to be factored in.

Yet it’s hard to see the big payoffs from the big salaries. This well-paid generation of public-university presidents has presided over the largest per-student public-financing decline in modern American history. If we wanted real performance pay, we would tie presidential salaries not to private fund raising but to the current level of state support. If a president is there while state financing is cut to 1999 levels, then the presidential salary gets rewound to the same time and place.

The real question for presidential pay is this: What does it do to the presidential ability to imagine and rebuild public higher education? A president making $50,000 to $100,000 per month is insulated from the struggling world his decisions create. A president who measures success in private donations has to answer to private donors. A president who thinks a public university should look like a business may spend 10 years—true story—growing the ranks of senior staff members four times faster than the ranks of professors. A president who is dependent on industry winds up speaking in the language of advertising.

Public universities desperately need to be readied for takeoff, for something that inspires their publics, for their true role in the salvation of humanity and of the natural world. Public universities need to find presidents who care about these things far more than they care about the marking to market of executive salaries.

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus and university professor of public service at George Washington University:
Few subjects in higher education arouse as much ire as does the discussion of presidential salaries, with the possible exception of decisions to eliminate football as a competitive sport.

At most colleges, a president’s salary is set after consideration of five leading factors: the size and complexity of the institution, overall years of experience and talents of the president, performance in office (meeting goals and expectations), whether the school is independent or state financed, and competitive market forces. Other considerations can also affect the decision, for example: whether the governing board wishes to signal pleasure or displeasure with the president’s performance, the number of years the president has held her current post, and the location of the college (urban high-rent district or not).

The competitive marketplace for English professors is English departments at other campuses or a few jobs in the private sector (very few opportunities); likewise, for a professor of philosophy or classics. But a professor of law or medicine has the option to work in the private sector, often at a salary higher than many found in the academy—and the salaries paid to those faculty members reflect the influence of outside factors. The situation with presidential salaries and the compensation of senior administrative staff is similarly influenced by “exit options.” The CFO of a university could also work in private industry. The vice president of medical affairs could run a major city hospital or research institution.

That being said, symbolism is an important element of management: In good times, when everyone gets a raise, few begrudge the president’s raise. But when times are tough, then those at the top of the pay scale should seriously consider asking that their own compensation not rise any more than any other group on campus, if at all.

When belts are being tightened on all sides of the campus—few or low raises, restrictions on travel grants, layoffs of support staff, reduction of research dollars—then administrative salaries should not be out of line with the rest of the campus’s expenditures. Shared sacrifice makes difficulties a little easier to bear.

Gordon Winston, emeritus professor of economics and political economy at Williams College:
I have little doubt that some university presidents are caught up in the same salary-as-self-respect lust as the bankers we’re hearing so much about these days. Sure, they run complicated and demanding organizations and most of them could have made more money in the for-profit sector, but that’s not where they are. They’re part of a community whose mission and dedication and satisfactions have to do with something more than, and different from, profits. And whatever their impact in the world at large, outsized presidential salaries have corrosive effects within their communities. There once was an idea that a college’s president should make about twice what its average full professors did (as professors, not as clinical practitioners or football coaches or consultants). That seems to me a reasonable and community-based target for boards to aim at. More than that suggests presidential values inconsistent with their jobs.

Ananya Roy, professor of comparative urban studies and international development at the University of California at Berkeley:
The debate about pay packages of public-university chief executives is a distraction. The more urgent question at hand is whether or not these executives are willing and able to wage the struggle necessary to maintain the American public university. That requires more than the sacrificial gestures of these executives—the self-imposed pay reductions, the payback of bonuses. It requires much more than the usual repertoire of fund raising from donors and alumni, much more than the efforts to remake universities as “lean and mean” teaching and research machines.

The struggle for the American public university requires visionary leadership that is able to inspire ordinary Americans as well as our elected representatives to invest in our collective future. It means making a convincing case as to why public universities, with their mandates of access and inclusion, remain an important pathway of socioeconomic mobility, especially in the context of growing income and wealth inequality in America. It means demonstrating how and why the knowledge produced in such universities serves the public interest. It means sparking and leading a national debate about policy priorities—after all, how much do we as a nation spend on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

As an alumna and member of the faculty of the University of California, I do not begrudge our chief executives their salaries. But I want to see them in the trenches of Sacramento and Washington—alongside faculty members, students, and staff members—making the case for state financing. I want to see them strike alliances with other public-university systems that are facing cuts and create a nationwide movement around educational justice. I want to see them forge solidarity with California’s community colleges and schools, the gateway institutions that face a fate even more fragile than that of well-known public universities. I want to be inspired.

James M. Weaver, chair of the board of trustees at Gettysburg College:
As a board chair of a private institution, I don’t think that presidential compensation packages are out of whack. Surveys like this generate a lot of attention, and often identify outliers, but in my experience current compensation levels seem commensurate with the immense responsibility of the job of a college president.

Every week, I have at least an hourlong conversation with Gettysburg’s president, and through that conversation I get a real feel for what is going on in her world and on the campus. I marvel at all of the different hats she wears, the number of difficult decisions she makes, the hours she puts into the job, day after day. The position is incredibly intense; it makes sense that compensation is set based on the totality of the role. Compared with what I see in industry and finance, the compensation seems, on the whole, appropriate.

In the business world, where the profit motive is present, the success or failure of a company to achieve a profit and thus compensate its CEO accordingly is understandable. We have an easier time tying compensation levels to the successes of the business entity. In the not-for-profit sector, the connection isn’t as direct, but that doesn’t minimize the complexity of the leader’s role. In either case, the right leadership is essential to the institution’s success; without strong and able presidential leadership there will be significant impact on the reputation, staffing, and leadership of the institution.

Roger W. Bowen, former president of the State University of New York at New Paltz:
In 2001, only six public-university presidents earned a half-million dollars or more in salary; and now in 2008-9 we learn that 58 public “chief executives” (I prefer the term “president”) have joined this elite class of educational leaders.

Most college presidents work hard, but probably not any harder than a junior tenure-track faculty member who must juggle teaching, research, advising, committee, service, and family responsibilities as expertly as presidents must deal with staff members, faculty members, students, alumni, governing boards, donors, legislators, community officials, and the local Rotary Club, not to mention budget deficits, deferred maintenance, and campus parking. In other words, the scope and range of the president’s responsibilities exceed those of faculty members who may log just as many hours at work. When something goes wrong on campus, it is the president who must deal directly with the problem and who is usually the one held accountable.

Presidents do in fact deserve to earn considerably more than faculty members, but the question is: How much more? Should the president’s salary be as much as five times greater than what the average full professor earns? And 10 times greater than what the average assistant professor earns? Governing-board members should be required to answer such questions, not from the perspective of the corporate world but instead from the perspective of university overseers who have fiduciary and ethical responsibilities for an institution’s welfare and its employees’ morale.

I have never met a president who does not believe it is an honor and a privilege to serve his or her campus. Nor have I met any presidents who feel they deserve less than what they are being paid. The position should be about that privilege to serve and not about presidential privileges.

Raymond D. Cotton, vice president of higher education for ML Strategies LLC and a partner in the Mintz Levin law firm:
The compensation of college and university presidents is a direct reflection of supply and demand in the marketplace. With many members of the baby-boomer generation retiring from presidencies, there is a growing demand for people who can do these jobs well. At the same time, there is dwindling supply of men and women within higher education who have the appropriate experience, skill, and qualifications and who are available to employers and boards of trustees. As a result, boards are often in a scramble, vying against one another for the remaining available talent.

Within that context, the level of compensation being offered to most college and university presidents today is not unreasonable.

Moreover, unlike tenured professors, who have a guaranteed job for life, presidents have a limited employment term and often serve at the will of the board.

Consequently, those who forfeit the job security associated with many other positions in higher education, who are able to perform these difficult jobs well and undertake the inherent risks of a presidency, should be appropriately compensated.

Admittedly, the nonprofit higher-education sector has a few presidents whose compensation makes them outliers vis-à-vis the marketplace. However, in general, presidential compensation appropriately reflects the existing demand by boards, labor-market shortage, and the high risks that come with the position.

Presidents often tell me that the presidency is a 24/7 assignment. As a consequence, personal lives and sometimes health can suffer a great deal. The delicate balancing act that presidents must perform in an effort to satisfy the various constituencies of an institution—the board and the faculty to the students and alumni—is a daunting task.

Finally, it ought to be noted that college and university presidents are sometimes not even the institution’s highest-paid employee. Those earning more than the president are some professors at medical schools, athletics directors, or coaches.

Jane Buck, immediate past president of the American Association of University Professors:
As the recipient of four degrees from the University of Delaware and a longtime resident of the state, I am appalled at the unconscionably astronomical salaries of the presidents of my alma mater and of Delaware Technical and Community College.

That said, I realize that the job of college and university presidents is extremely demanding and deserving of reasonable compensation, perhaps in excess of the most highly paid faculty member. The university’s president, Patrick T. Harker, has already initiated several creative projects and promises to be an effective fund raiser, and should be rewarded. But total compensation exceeding $800,000? The word that immediately comes to mind is “unseemly.”

As The Chronicle article points out, several of the most highly paid presidents have refused salary increases and bonuses, or have returned large portions to their institutions. Laudable as such behavior is, it does not address the fundamental issue of appropriate levels of compensation. It would be more efficient to institute a rational salary schedule ab initio. My own bias and that of some of my colleagues in the AAUP—not, I hasten to point out, official policy—is that presidential pay should be capped at no more than twice that of the median salary for a full professor.

I should be most interested in seeing what percentage of courses are taught by contingent—that is, untenured and untenurable—faculty members at the institutions paying the highest salaries to their top administrators (and football coaches, but that’s another story). The corporatization of higher education—exemplified by rising tuition, corporate-style salaries and bonuses for administrators, and references to presidents as CEO’s and students as customers—could, if not reversed, signal the demise of the best of the academy.

Clifford M. Kendall, chair of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents:
In today’s challenging economic climate, when our state is slashing budgets and freezing salaries, and the private sector is cutting jobs, the presidents of our institutions of higher education should not be receiving pay increases, except in the most unusual and compelling circumstances. Our chancellor and presidents have previously taken the lead in independently adopting and endorsing that position. It has made the job of the regents, who ultimately set salaries in Maryland, relatively easy.

We know these are extraordinary times. Questions of executive compensation are always controversial, and never more so than in a year of economic upheaval. The State of Maryland just today announced actions to close a budget shortfall of $2-billion.

The dilemma the regents wrestle with is how to ensure the quality of Maryland’s academic institutions for the future, and how to attract and retain the best possible leadership for those institutions. A college, university, or system president or chancellor is not only the leader of an extraordinarily complex organization, with annual budgets in the millions and, in some cases, billions of dollars. College leaders, especially those in Maryland, are critical partners whose work directly contributes to the economic vitality of the state and the mid-Atlantic region. They are academic role models, and we have charged them with leading and guiding our children and grandchildren. Many of us have attained our own academic and professional dreams and aspirations under their tutelage, directly or indirectly.

I have been a corporate CEO in a company with 4,000 employees, which basically answered to three constituencies, and it simply does not compare to the challenges that face a college or university leader. In academe, the president or chancellor is pulled by constituencies in the double digits. The balancing act is exceedingly difficult and requires adept leadership.

Given that Maryland is blessed with a group of outstanding academic leaders, it is important during periods when there is not economic stress to provide them competitive salaries so that we can retain and attract the best talent available.

Robert W. Tucker, president of the consulting company InterEd:
Some wags see the collapse of the financial sector as evidence that university presidents are paid too much; most look to average salaries to determine a correct dollar value. Both approaches produce bad outcomes. A proximate cause of the financial crisis was an egregious misalignment of incentives, and no one thinks averages should have been consulted to set bankers’ salaries. The more bankers damaged the economy, the more money they made.

University presidents derive some compensation for behavior appropriate to their job (albeit from sloppy metrics); other very important portions of their job go unnoticed and unmanaged, often squandering millions of dollars. Like the bankers, incentives are misaligned, and knowing what the other guy earns doesn’t align them.

Presidents temporize while for-profit and a few independent colleges grab millions in revenue from under their noses. These losses have a nasty ripple effect. Interlopers ignore expensive programs that lose money. They steal high-volume, high-profit programs, leaving Big State U with declining offsetting revenue to support expensive, unprofitable, mission-driven programs.

To compete effectively, universities must deliver programs needed in the way the market wants them. Unfortunately, presidents lack the leadership skills necessary to compete. One reason (of many) is that they work with 1920s accounting models that lack information to manage market share, revenue, margin, etc. Lacking basic tools of management, one might hold presidents blameless, until one recalls how easily they finance new buildings. For-profits have grown to 10-percent market share exploiting these weaknesses. Four large for-profits produced $6.8-billion in 2009. At least half was share taken from other colleges.

There are no requirements to report true presidential performance. If there were, a less attractive picture would emerge. One popular president (good athletics) lost $7.5-million to the competition in one year! Would the legislature rethink his compensation if it knew he allowed millions to slip into the hands of out-of-state interests?

The three-step solution: Stop talking about average salaries. Create the information systems to manage enterprise performance. Align incentives and compensation. A president who snatches millions from would-be interlopers probably deserves a handsome salary.


Due to a technical error, 25 comments to this story were deleted accidentally. We've restored them immediately below:


1. sanjaykapur - January 21, 2010 at 03:40 pm

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The following is true of ALL public-university employees, not just Presidents. Presidents should get more ONLY after the rest of the employees get more:

"Public universities should not have second- and third-class resources by comparison to their private kin. So public-university presidents should not have systematically lower salaries. Many public-university presidents manage larger and more complicated institutions than do their private counterparts. They do it with less money to go around. They have genuinely tough jobs, and that needs to be factored in."

2. 22011344 - January 21, 2010 at 04:13 pm

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The excuse in business (including banking) for obscene and outrageouly high CEO pay is that it is needed to guarantee getting (or keeping) the best and brightest. After the melt-down on Wall Street, we hear that same lame excuse trotted out to justify payments to those who were at the helm for the melt-down. That behavior then fuels the issue of appropriate pay for College Presidents. I am unaware of any recent case of Wall Street raiding higher education to get top talent from Presidential Suites. The way many college presidents are selected by an over-sized committee whose choices are vetted by a poitically charged board almost guarantees mediocrity or worse. The current occupant of the president's office at a public university in this State cannot read financial statements and is not conversant with the university's financial crisis. That Prez was handpicked by the board. How much should such a public university president be paid??

3. 11159995 - January 21, 2010 at 04:21 pm

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The real scandal in university pay is not the salaries of presidents, but the salaries of coaches in football and basketball at the large Div. 1 schools. Generally, these exceed the presidents' salaries by a multiple of three to five or more. Coaches' responsibilities cover a very narrow range of duties compared with those of college presidents. And don't tell me that coaching is like medicine or law, where professors have options in the private sector: the record of even the best college coaches trying to coach NFL teams (Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, et al) is abysmal.--Sandy Thatcher, Penn State (where the football coach's salary does not exceed the president's by any such multiple)

4. tjfarrel - January 21, 2010 at 04:31 pm

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I quote Mr. Weaver: "I marvel at all of the different hats she wears, the number of difficult decisions she makes, the hours she puts into the job, day after day. The position is incredibly intense; it makes sense that compensation is set based on the totality of the role. Compared with what I see in industry and finance, the compensation seems, on the whole, appropriate." Fair enough. But of how many jobs on the campus--and I'm specifically thinking of faculty jobs--might the same be said? A lot. Is he willing to set pay for those folks on the same basis?

5. libraryecc - January 21, 2010 at 05:10 pm

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Joe Paterno's salary from Penn State is much lower than the president of Penn State, however, Joe Paterno donates a million or so dollars a year to Penn State, such as his library contribution. Joe is getting the money from somewhere, perhaps he makes his millions from the Penn State boosters or alums that will pay any amount of money for a winner and to keep Jo Pa at Penn State. His salary from Penn State doesn't reflect what he actually makes every year.

6. ttuenglish - January 21, 2010 at 09:59 pm

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No one addresses the disparity in faculty pay that is an important aspect of this issue. I am not talking about Humanities vs. Business. I am a B-School faculty who chose academia. I am talking about the "research/publishing stars" who get paid hundreds of thousands plus research funding. Some of this is because they bring in their own funding but some of this research cannot be monetized, it is simply written off to the prestige of having a certain faculty member.

My point is that, until we reward faculty for teaching and research that benefits our students, we deserve overpaid presidents. They are simply following a model that we set - superstars - however dubious the criteria, are paid a lot more.

P.S. I do not care what JoePa makes extra if it does not come from the public dole. He can have sponsorships, just like Presidents serve on paid boards and Medical School deans have pharmaceutical contracts. All of the college coaches who make $5 million have sponsorships on top of that extravagant salary.

7. davi2665 - January 22, 2010 at 08:15 am

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It is almost predictable that many in the professorial ranks feel put upon that a president of the university DARES to accept a salary greater than theirs. Get over yourselves. I have served in both capacities- in professorial positions and CEO level positions. The professor's responsibilities are miniscule in comparison with the CEO; and CEOs/presidents have far more demanding and complex responsibilities, and are actually held accountable and can be fired, unlike the tenured professors. I think that university presidents are greatly underpaid- they should not have to apologize for being compensated for a very challenging job with a relatively limited "survival" rate. The debate over presidential salaries is a microcosm of the social warfare currently being waged against anyone with wealth or a significant salary- the Marxists want to strip that advantage and give it to those who do not have as much, and go through almost laughable mental gyrations to attempt to justify the class warfare they expouse.

In response to ttuenglish, your notion that medical school deans have pharmaceutical contracts comes from fantasyland- most conflict of interest policies in medical schools forbid that kind of relationship, particularly in public institutions. The real COIs occur with dishonest professors becoming paid shills for the pharmaceutical companies while pretending to do objective research on their drugs at taxpayer expense. But, of course, these hallowed professors are protected because they are professors. If a CEO/president ever pulled something like that, they would be fired for cause and prosecuted. Those who continue to foam at the mouth over presidential salaries should try competing in the real world of business- it might give them a better appreciation of the value of good leadership at the CEO/presidential level.

8. 11313934 - January 22, 2010 at 08:19 am

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When the phone rings at 3:00 AM Saturday morning at the president's house, what is going through his head? He is worrying that somebody's child is dead. That responsibility is worth a lot of money in my opinion. I don't agree with the President here at Slippery Rock on some things, but one thing I do admire about the guy is his visibility. He attends all the games and activities. It doesn't look like he has any time to himself. Actually, I doubt that his hourly wage is really much more than mine. I don't begrudge him his salary, in fact I think he's under-paid. PJTramdack

9. 11239383 - January 22, 2010 at 08:24 am

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Presidential pay levels are but the tip of the iceberg. A problem that must be faced squarely is the issue of administrative bloat. Higher education institutions now have more Vice Presidents (and their salaries) than one would find at the Bank of America.

In the armed forces there is a concept that addresses the ratio of how many support positions and activities (logistics) are needed to keep a person in the field of action. Ask yourself these simple questions. Have the resources (positions) at the department level gone up or down since 2000? Have the resources being directed to other cost centers on campus gone up or down since 2000? Think of real dollars.

The first step is to freeze all spending and correct the administrative creep. Return all administrative and kindred positions above and beyond the department level back to 2000 levels. Return the moneys saved to the teaching mission for the institution.

10. johnga1949 - January 22, 2010 at 10:03 am

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In my opinion, the comparison of coaching salaries with those of other university employees is simply a matter of comparing apples and oranges. Most coaches at Division I schools are paid primarily from funds generated by athletics, not public funds. This is an old discussion, but athletics is really an entertainment enterprise that generates tremendous dollars for DI schools. Any faculty member who can get 90,000 people to pay upwards of $50 a ticket to watch a three hour lecture six or seven time each fall should probably make what the coaches make also.

Back to the president's salaries, it is informative to look at the top ten in pay and then look at the rankings of those schools. Some may indeed be getting their money's worth from their president while others sure seem to be vastly overpaying.

11. 22216726 - January 22, 2010 at 10:26 am

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Not to distract this "well informed" dialogue on Presidential compensation, but as we also discuss another easy target for dialogue the issue of "administrative creep" seems to always get mention. Yes, there may be some minor increases, but has anyone also checked out the exponential increase of Federal and State mandates that call for an institution to report on everything from the # of left-handed, black students enrolled in algebra to rolls of toilet paper consummed each year. Yes, scholarlyl merit might be questioned, but filings are mandated and which faculty member will take on the responsibility for responding? Suggestion. Let's put a freeze on these outside mandates and then talk about a freeze on administrative creep.

12. 11159995 - January 22, 2010 at 10:36 am

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#10 appears not to have read the recent report showing how few Div 1 schools actually make more money than they spend--which means that most of them do draw funds away from general funds that could have been used for academic programs. Penn State is one of the few, but still pays its coach a more reasonable salary vis-a-vis the president's than most do.---Sandy Thatcher

13. salrosario - January 22, 2010 at 10:43 am

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Shouldn't this argument be about income distribution in the academy? By focusing only on presidential salaries, aren't we avoiding some inconvenient truths? Take for example, tenured professor X teaching HIS 101 and adjunct instructor Y teaching HIS 101 at the same college with more or less the same amount of students, what should they make for teaching that one class? I don't know the answer, but it seems that we are oversimplifying the issue.

14. madamesmartypants - January 22, 2010 at 12:13 pm

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I think most people dislike the fact that universities claim to be constantly in a budget crisis yet then turn around and pay their presidents hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation. At the same time that we are hearing that universities can't afford to open new lines of tenure, that there aren't enough jobs to go around for new PhDs (and haven't been for years), that adjunct positions have taken over 68% of listed positions--these same universities turn around and claim that their exec compensation is more than fair!

I'd like to ask these board members quite frankly: to whom are these salaries fair--to all the kids crowded up in larger classes? To underpaid adjuncts, overworked graduate students, or the increasingly few-and-far-between tenured professors who must pick up the administrative slack? At my university, we hold classes out in trailers on the back lot because we don't have enough classroom space--this despite a large administrative building having been built two years ago. Where is the fairness, the concern for the students' education put first and foremost, in these typical events?

As for all the comments regarding how tough the president's job is: Certainly. But at what cost to the rest of us? The university only has a certain amount of money available to it. It has been argued that a president who brings money to the university deserves to be paid more, but if that's the case, then really all the president is doing is funneling much of the additional money into his or her own pockets--not setting it aside for the school's benefit, as the funds were no doubt originally intended. Or are these presidents vain enough to think that their own good = the good of the university?

The problems banks have had in recent years over CEO compensation seem to reflect a larger trend in bloated CEO compensation that is also affecting universities. Given rising middle-class anger against the costs of a college education, I wouldn't be surprised if the government begins trying to regulate executive comp at universities as well. We would do well to create our own standards before the opportunity is taken away from us.

15. scorwin - January 22, 2010 at 12:21 pm

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Presidential performance ought to be measured by the overall health of the institution. There can be various measures of that, e.g., enrollment, library appropriation, grant funds received, median faculty salary. Why not make the president's compensation a fixed function of these sorts of variables?

16. rwalker4 - January 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm

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Presidents face many challenges. Robert Tucker noted one of the most overlooked organizational problems, "Create the information systems to manage enterprise performance." I would add for the 21st Century.

Look around your Universities, is your administration running on applications developed twenty years ago or longer and held together by an army of managers, analysts, programmers and consultants?

Too often leaders treat technology with mystical aversion. Information processing is that place where magic happens and Oz is behind the green curtain. Few executive leaders understand technology or the application of systems to drive business efficiency within the public university.

For-Profit, Private Colleges, and most Community Colleges understand the necessity to operate efficient information systems. The large research university where I work maintains bio-demographic and other important information on no less than six different systems with the corresponding complement of support staff.

17. crispyphd - January 22, 2010 at 01:44 pm

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DAVIS, who states he has served in the professorial and CEO role, said "The real COIs occur with dishonest professors becoming paid shills for the pharmaceutical companies while pretending to do objective research on their drugs at taxpayer expense. But, of course, these hallowed professors are protected because they are professors."

Biomedical research professors are contracted by pharma to test their drugs so that the results are not subjective. These professors are free to publish results, wherein they must reveal COIs and where the money to do said research came from. If pharma is paying for the research, how then is it tax payer money? Certainly pharma is not supplementing the SALARY, but rather providing support for RESEARCH COSTS (which are astronomical, when animals, care, reagents, other direct and indirect costs are figured in). Further, if these COIs are not disclosed, labs get shut down, teaching duties culled, and, while not 'fired', they are shoved out the door (this I have seen done firsthand). If pharma were such an inscrutible player in the medical field, why would they hire the professor to do their research? The reason is that the reputation of the research scientist as an objective observer/analyst is not tarnished. Yes, there are A FEW bad apples in the mix, but the vast majority are truthful, trustworthy and not handed a bonus if Drug X does what BigPharmaCo wants it to do...

18. uomatters - January 22, 2010 at 02:13 pm

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It was intersting to see Ray Cotton writing on this subject. Back in 2008 the Oregon University system hired Ray Cotton of the higher ed consulting firm ML Strategies to prepare a report comparing the UO President's pay with that of his peers.

The resulting report is 11 pages long, including the cover. It's almost entirely cribbed from data available online to any subscriber from the online reports on presidential salaries. Mr. Cotton's report is here.

Mr. Cotton and ML Strategies charged Oregon an incredible $45,572.03 for this report. The invoices are at the end of the pdf.

The OUS system was so embarrassed by this episode that their legal counsel Ryan Hagemann spent months trying to hide the report from public view, and months more trying to hide how much they had paid for it. In the end the Oregon Department of Justice ruled they had to make both public, and then that they had to pay the DOJ another $3,000 or so to cover the DOJ's expenses in making the report public.

More details on this are available at

19. uomatters - January 22, 2010 at 02:31 pm

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And here's a link to the Oregon Department of Justice's ruling on this: hat%20OUS%20provide%20consultant%27s%20report.pdf

20. jesor - January 22, 2010 at 02:46 pm

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My argument is with the "limited talent pool" concept. Often boards (both of colleges and for-profit businesses) create a limited talent pool by too narrowly defining the requirements of the position. A position might require 10 years of "progressively responsible leadership in Higher Education including curriculum, management, fundraising, and federal compliance" That institution has just limited its pool to those who are already presidents and guaranteed a bidding war with another institution's board. Adding the words "or equivalent knowledge and experience" would probably save that institution millions of dollars over a presidential tenure and possibly bring in a different perspective than the same traditional view of academia. It would also bring in younger talent that is likely to stay longer. Sure you run the risk of having a president with a bit of a learning curve, but there are highly competent and talented individuals rising to the top constantly and being forced to bide their time and mark off the requisite boxes, when they are really ready for the big office years ahead of time.

21. botwarble - January 22, 2010 at 03:26 pm

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Back to 3, 10 and 12: Most public university sports programs lose money while most large public university's pay both ADs and coaches significantly more than their presidents. I've never had a problem with pay for top CEOs and, for that matter, university presidents, as long as they've remained based on market demand and performance. Athletics, on the other hand, where the focus is primarily on large African-American boys throwing leather balls around to the delight of rotund, older Anglo men, blows my mind. And the discussion is rarely ever broached with respect to real costs associated with the bizarre infatuation: alcohol abuse and violence, infrastructure costs, community-university relations, real academic achievement. As is the case with climate change and health care, we have some real reprioritizing to do in this country.

22. bemused - January 22, 2010 at 03:28 pm

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Well, Obama is certainly overpaid for the job he's doing.

23. jthelin - January 23, 2010 at 10:57 am

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response to post by DAVI2665 -- particularly the point that presidents can be fired. Yes -- and note also that most presidents also hold tenured faculty positions. Usually they can "return to their teaching and research and students" at either full pay or some high percentage (e.g., 9/11). Ironically, many of these same presidents decry tenure and tenure track for professors who really do teach and do research over many years.

At one flagship state university the former president continues to receive year after year after year a salary of over $210K plus benefits -- and does no teaching.

I do not read where any critical professors are sayign that professors should make more than a president. I think they are saying that the presidential compensation should be reasonable and fair.

I have only scratched the surface of numerous, obscured, perks that presidents and their immediate administrative vps and team receive.

24. fergdoug - January 24, 2010 at 11:27 pm

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Salary envy is so unseemly and petty.

I always cite Humphrey Bogart's reply to "What makes you think you're worth a million dollars a movie?": "Because I can get it."

25. intered - January 25, 2010 at 10:05 am

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I note, with appreciation, the many diverse perspectives presented here. One need only review the above posts to see the widely diverging but unspecified performance standards and metrics implied by the comments. A few of us seem preoccupied with the dollar value, symbolic or otherwise, linked to an undefined normative standard that has little or nothing to do with the role of the president.

The only direction I disagree with on its face is the suggestion that the market sets a president's compensation. There is a constrained but active market for some athletic coaches - colleges do hire them away from each other. The market for college presidents does not approach this level of viability. It is small and fragile, at best. If a legislature decided to drop the salary of a college president by 50%, it is unlikely that another school would offer him a job.

No one should be surprised by the diversity of opinions expressed above. They are a natural outcome of the vagueness of the role, the imprecision of the performance standards, and the almost total absence of agree upon metrics. A measure of failure is predestined when we allow an institution's most important role to remain ill-defined. When well-defined proficiencies and specific goals are absent, as the are in the typical role of university president, charisma and peacekeeping become the leading indicators of a president's success. These attributes, while potentially important, may or may not correlate with success in relation to achieving the institution's most important goals. Do we want a president who makes us feel good or one that achieves negotiated goals? Some observers believe we want presidents who are charismatic and have conciliation and peacekeeping skills, and who have demonstrated that they won't surprise us with "fire in their belly" to get big things done. Whatever else we say, we are not about big things.

Whatever we desire in presidents, perhaps we can agree that we can improve the processes by which we select and manage them. In a public university, the proficiencies we desire in a president and the grand goals we want her to accomplish should be determined through a public process. Once determined and agreed upon, we must then map the agreed-upon goals to specific performance standards and objective metrics by which they will be assessed. Once the back office work is done, the remaining step is to create performance-based compensation incentives that align precisely to the goals . . . and nothing else. Few of us would object to a base salary of $150K, linked to performance incentives that stand to increase the president's paycheck by a factor of 5 or 10, but only if specific goals are achieved in terms of unequivocal metrics.

In the example I used above, too many college presidents lose millions in revenue to the for-profits (Problem #1). The publicly founded institutions end up providing the expensive lab-based education and the for-profits cherry-pick the profitable courses and cop off the degree (Problem #2). When this occurs, presidents are not punished for this fiscal mismanagement (Problem #3). Because we lack modern information systems and management metrics, most of us are only aware the loss might be occurring (Problem #4). Finally, the president is not provided an incentive to turn the problem around (Problem #5). Again, asking if the numbers on the paycheck are OK begs the material question. The right question, and the path to equity and fairness mentioned by so many above, is "What goals do we want our president to accomplish and what, incrementally, is it worth to us when she accomplishes them?" The door is wide open with respect to the nature and scope of these goals (e.g., financial, cultural, organizational, market share, service, etc.). For most universities, the goals will be quite complex. So what? I assume we can manage a little complexity if we qualify for these kinds of jobs.

Robert W Tucker
InterEd, Inc.