University Presidents’ Salaries Rising

America may be in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Depression, but university presidents are better off than ever.

According to a Chronicle of Higher Education annual report released yesterday, executive compensation, particularly for public university presidents, is on the rise. But as universities across the country face budget cuts in light of the economic downturn, some top officials are declining salary raises or benefits.

University President Drew G. Faust’s first-year salary will not be released until this spring. In 2006-2007, Ivy League presidents earned between $1—former University President Derek C. Bok forewent a salary during his interim term—and $1,411,894, taken home by Columbia University’s Lee C. Bollinger.

Median pay and benefits for the heads of 184 public research universities was $427,400 in the 2007-2008 academic year, up 7.2 percent from the year before.

Ohio State University’s E. Gordon Gee, whose $310,000 bonus announced earlier this month brought his total compensation for last year to $1,346,225, was the highest-earning executive at a public university.

When the bonus was approved, Ohio State Board of Trustees chairman G. Gilbert Cloyd justified the high executive salary as a means of boosting Ohio State’s standing in national rankings.

“The board of trustees has a vision that Ohio State will move from one of America’s top 20 public institutions to one of America’s top 10 public institutions,” he said. “In Gordon Gee, we have the best and most experienced university president in the nation.”

But Gee wasn’t the only public university head who took home a large paycheck this year. Presidential salaries at nearly a third of the public institutions surveyed exceeded $500,000, and 15 public university presidents earned over $700,000.

With this increase, compensation for public university leaders is catching up with that of their private university peers.

Compensation for top executives at private institutions stayed relatively flat overall, although the survey found significant increases at some of the wealthiest private institutions. Three private university presidents earned more than Gee in the academic year 2006-2007, the most recent year for which data is available at private institutions: David J. Sargent of Boston’s Suffolk University, Henry S. Bienen of Northwestern University, and Columbia’s Bollinger.

Sargent took top spot on the earnings chart by a wide margin, bringing in $2,800,461.

Greg Gatlin, director of public affairs at Suffolk, said the reported compensation was so high because the university not only wanted to reward Sargent for his contributions throughout his 52-year tenure there, but also to compensate for years of being “woefully underpaid” and to entice the 75-year-old to defer retirement and stay on.

In academic year 2006-2007, Harvard’s highest paid official was provost Steven E. Hyman, who brought home $549,683, including benefits and a two-year award paid in 2007.

—Staff writer Alexandra Perloff-Giles can be reached at aperloff@fas.harvard.edu.