The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

[Chris George/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

Experience, dedication and skill all have their price, and universities around the country have been willing to pay more and more.

Salaries for the four highest paid university presidents in the nation topped $800,000 in fiscal year 2002 -- with Penn's own Judith Rodin coming in third with with $845,474 in salary, benefits and deferred compensation. According to The New York Times, 27 private university presidents earned over half a million dollars.

"It's simply supply and demand," said Dan Parker, a partner with the Atlanta-based executive search and consulting firm Baker Parker Associates. "The pool of talent is incredibly shallow for top presidential candidates that can run a university that may have a $2 billion budget."

"There are few people who can do the job well, and they should be and are in many cases compensated accordingly," added Michael Schoenfeld, spokesman for Vanderbilt University, which managed to afford the second-highest paid president last fiscal year.

American Council on Education spokesman Paul Hassen also noted that, in general, "if there's a shortage of a certain kind of faculty member, then it's going to drive up the price," especially as universities strain to recruit from a relatively small pool of women, blacks and Latinos.

Two of the top four highest paid university presidents this past year were women -- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson, whose compensation was first in the nation at $891,400, and Rodin, who topped The Chronicle of Higher Education's presidential salary charts in fiscal years 1997-1998, 1998-1999 and 2000-2001.

Vanderbilt paid Chancellor Gordon Gee $852,023 this past fiscal year, in salary, benefits and deferred compensation, making him the second-highest paid university president in the country.

Gee is one of the most experienced administrators in higher education, having previously served as president of Brown University, Ohio State University, the University of Colorado and West Virginia University.

While Schoenfeld would not discuss the specifics of Gee's compensation package, he confirmed that a significant portion of Gee's pay is goal-based, pegged to Gee's success.

"Successfully leading a complex institution like a Vanderbilt or a Penn where you have a multibillion dollar endowment, tens of thousands of employees, where you have every conceivable kind of activity... these are enormously complex institutions, and the kinds of people who can lead them successfully are fewer and farther between."

Schoenfeld added that "if you took a... company that was as complex, as large as Vanderbilt University, the compensation for the chief executive would be multiple times" what Gee is paid.

Public universities, meanwhile, are doing their best to keep pace with their private competitors, who often attempt to poach faculty leadership and talent.

"We have recruited recently a number of some of the top scholars in the country and some of the top scholars in the world from public institutions because these folks are willing to be at a place that is more stable and less subject to the whims of a state legislature," Schoenfeld said.

Mary Sue Coleman, who replaced Lee Bollinger as president of the University of Michigan last summer after he left to take the reins at Columbia University, was the highest paid president of a public university in 2003-04, with a compensation package totaling $677,500.

"The salary that we pay our president is justified by the job that she has to do," Michigan spokeswoman Julie Peterson said. "I think that folks understand the market for folks with these credentials is really quite competitive.... I think they understand that you get what you pay for."

Nevertheless, Coleman and her administration voluntarily declined salary increases this year, "given how difficult things were in Michigan last year budgetarily," Peterson said.

According to Hassen, public universities are often assisted by private, affiliated foundations that can help pay salaries state legislatures may be unwilling to touch.

"What happens in a lot of public institutions is the foundation will kick in to pay part of the president's salary," Hassen said. "There's a public portion of the salary and a private portion of the salary."

Ohio is currently considering a bill for a raise in its president's salary that would cap the $130,000 salary the state pays for its governor.

"This is nothing new, it's happened before where states tried to limit it to the amount they paid their governor," said Parker, adding that inferring such equivalences betrayed a lack of understanding.

"In no way is a politician comparable to a presidential candidate at a university, as a politician is not comparable to a CEO of a corporation," Parker said. "Look at what the president of the United States makes, and he's the most powerful politician in the world."

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.