36 College Presidents Earn More Than $1 Million

Dec 5, 2011
Originally published on December 5, 2011 7:22 pm
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The presidents of private universities appear to be doing very well. That's according to a new study by the Chronicle of Higher Education. It found 36 university presidents who earned more than a million dollars. That was compensation in the year 2009. And the gap between pay for private university presidents and professors is increasing.

Jack Stripling co-wrote that story in the Chronicle, where he's a senior reporter and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: And this is something the Chronicle reports on annually. So what's changed in the numbers for 2009 from numbers in 2008 for university president pay?

STRIPLING: Well, this year we found the median total compensation for presidents of private nonprofit institutions was just under $306,000. The increase in terms of a percentage change is rather slight, it's about 2 percent from what we recorded last year. We do have 36 presidents making more than a million dollars this year, as opposed to 33 the year before.

SIEGEL: Well, who wins the competition as the highest paid private university president, or at least in 2009?

STRIPLING: I don't know if I would define it as winning. But its $4.9 million that Constantine Papadakis collected. But he was the president of Drexel University and is now deceased. A big part of the compensation that was recorded this year for him was attributed to a life insurance policy payoff for his wife.

SIEGEL: To his wife. So, who would be the highest paying university president who remained in place?

STRIPLING: That would be Nicholas Zeppos, who's the president of Vanderbilt University. He collected just under $1.9 million for the 2009 calendar year.

SIEGEL: And there's another measure used, you say, which is this year you also compared university presidents' pay to the pay of professors on their campuses. What did you find?

STRIPLING: Well, we found that, by and large, most presidents make about three and a half times that of full professors on their campus. At the same time, we found six institutions where presidents made more than 10 times that of professors on their campus. The biggest disparity was at Stevenson University in Maryland, where Kevin Manning made 16 times that of professors on this campus.

A big part of that was a deferred compensation payout that he received in 2009. But, at the same time, even if you looked at him in the year prior, he still made seven times that of professors on his campus, which was considerably greater than the median.

SIEGEL: What did universities tell you when somebody, at least answered your questions, in defense of pretty high compensation packages?

STRIPLING: As you would expect, universities and particularly the boards of trustees that set these compensation levels are wanting to reward what they perceive as great performance. In a lot of cases, the preferred compensation packages come in later in one's career to reward years of service.

SIEGEL: And in fairness, the president of a university - unlike the professors - is deeply engaged in raising money for the university. Part of his job is making money for the institution.

STRIPLING: That's right.

SIEGEL: Is this a contentious issue on campuses? Or do people pretty much accept it?

STRIPLING: As you would imagine, anytime there is a period of economic difficulty, compensation for executives comes under fire in higher education, just like any other area of the country. And so, we've seen at the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, Amy Gutmann - one of the higher paid presidents - has been targeted by students on that campus who are members of an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I think we'll see more of that as these data start to become public. Students who are frustrated with tuition rising and other economic problems will look at their presidents and question the level of pay.

SIEGEL: Although, in the case of Amy Gutmann, her pay as a share of the University of Pennsylvania's budget would not be nearly so great as a million-dollar package for someone in a very small college.

STRIPLING: That's right. That's right. Now, relative to budget, presidents who make the smallest amount tend to come from the wealthiest institutions. But you can do the math.

SIEGEL: Well, Jack Stripling, thank you very much for talking with us.

STRIPLING: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: Jack Stripling is a senior reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education. He's co-author of an analysis of what university presidents at private universities are paid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.