At top of ivory towers, pay gets higher

Salaries of private university presidents continued to rise in 1998-99, stirring debate over whether the pay hikes reflect new executive-like duties or are so high as to elicit a public backlash.

The median compensation for presidents of 37 research universities was $393,288, up 3 percent from the previous year, according to a survey of 479 private colleges. The median for 44 doctoral institutions - research universities that award more than 50 doctoral degrees a year - was $218,703, up 9 percent.

The survey, to be published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, found that seven presidents earned more than $500,000. The number earning at least $300,000 - 46 - has nearly doubled in the past three years.

Fatter paychecks reflect the changing roles of the people in charge of America's ivory towers. Long responsible for safeguarding academic excellence, today they increasingly perform executive-like duties. "The tenor of the job is changing," says Judy Fischer of Executive Compensation Advisory Services in Alexandria, Va. "You have to have a public-relations person, a business person, and an academic person rolled into one."

Others, however, are concerned that presidents' salaries are going up much faster than the rate of inflation and the rate of income of families sending their children to college.

"It causes considerable concern about the cost of higher education," says Patrick Callan of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. "Presidential salaries aren't driving the cost up, but it's a symbol of what is going on."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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