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Pay for college chiefs rising fast

Their compensation has outpaced inflation for five years, prompting demands for oversight, disclosure.

By Randy DotingaCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 3, 2008

SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education/Rich Clabaugh–STAFF



When former Sprint Nextel executive Gary Forsee landed a job as president of the University of Missouri system in December, his annual salary dropped from $21.3 million to $400,000, reflecting the huge disparity in pay between the private sector and academia. Still, Wall Street and ivy towers share this in common: charges that the top dogs make too much money.

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To the dismay of professors and students, many leaders of public universities make well above $500,000 a year, while several private colleges pay seven-figure salaries to their presidents.

And their pay is growing at a rapid clip: Last fall, a new study found that compensation of university presidents has grown by 28 to 37 percent over the past five years, depending on the type of university. During that time, inflation lifted the cost of living by 13 percent.

Advocates note that the pay of higher-education executives hardly compares to that of CEOs in the business world. But critics complain that the generosity at the top makes no sense as students face sharp tuition increases and professors see middling pay hikes.

"It's completely unseemly for our administrators to imagine that they ought to aspire to those kinds of salaries," says Lillian Taiz, president of the California State University's faculty association.

"We have an obligation to do a good job and not expect to live like millionaires."

Executive salaries are drawing special attention here in California, where university pay scandals continue to roil the Golden State.

The University of California, for one, is looking for a new president to replace Robert Dynes, who announced plans to resign in 2007 after the system gave hefty pay raises and perks to executives without disclosing them publicly or alerting the university's overseers. Mr. Dynes reportedly approved some of the raises and later admitted missing "red flags" amid a culture of "paranoia."

"Students were paying, taxpayers were paying, and people were getting sweet deals," state Sen. Abel Maldonado complained in an interview last summer.

Meanwhile, the 22-campus California State University is under fire for providing perks and benefits to executives without public disclosure. An audit released in November called for a variety of new safeguards, and a new lawsuit by two alumni seeks to eliminate retroactive raises.

Despite complaints from faculty and students, however, one of the Cal State system's regents has announced plans to boost executive salaries by 46 percent over the next four years.