College chiefs’ salaries increase

More entering million-dollar ranks, survey says

By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / November 15, 2010

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The club of millionaire college presidents is becoming less exclusive, with 30 heads of private colleges nationwide cracking the once-exalted barrier in a new salary survey.

As recently as 2004, no college presidents received more than $1 million in annual compensation. But in 2008, the most recent data available, Ivy League and lesser-known colleges alike lavished their presidents with at least that much in salary and other compensation.

The annual survey, which this year included 448 private college presidents, was conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education and publicly released today. It was based on a review of federal tax filings that colleges submitted last spring.

Much like the massive bonuses of financial executives that generated public anger in recent years, the surging salaries have drawn scrutiny from critics who say private colleges are not doing enough to contain costs and climbing tuition.

Elite schools have boosted financial aid awards to attract students from middle- and working-class families, but some now charge in excess of $50,000 a year to those paying full freight.

The past two years, Suffolk University faced a harsh spotlight for paying president David Sargent enormous sums that far surpassed those of his peers at similar schools.

In 2008, Sargent, who abruptly retired last month after a 21-year tenure, earned more than $832,000, far less than before.

Boston University was the only Massachusetts college to pay its president more than $1 million in 2008. Counting salary and a variety of other benefits, Robert A. Brown received just over that threshold, making him the highest compensated college leader in the state.

Bob Giannino-Racine, executive director of ACCESS, a Boston nonprofit that helps students find ways to afford college, said the rising salaries are troubling at a time when college costs are pricing out many students.

“With all the challenges families are facing, the number of presidents making a million dollars a year really takes me aback,’’ he said.

“Would it be meaningfully different to their quality of life if they made $700,000? It just astonishes me.’’

Colleges and other nonprofit organizations are required to report deferred and actual income each year to the Internal Revenue Service. For the first time this year, the IRS required private colleges and other nonprofits to include the value of nontaxable perks, such as housing, in their pay packages.

Brown lives in a five-bedroom mansion in Brookline the university estimates would rent for $21,000 a month.

A university spokesman said on Friday that including the home inflated Brown’s overall compensation, and that the university assessed the entire home to determine rental value.

Other universities assessed their presidents’ homes for far less, the Globe reported in June, because they counted only the portion considered to be a private residence. The first floor of a president’s home is often used for entertaining and other university functions.

Other highly paid Massachusetts presidents included Susan Hockfield at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who made $940,000, and Northeastern University’s Joseph E. Aoun, who made $912,000.

Brandeis University president Jehuda Reinharz, who is stepping down, made $830,000. Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University, received $822,000.

Among public universities, University of Massachusetts Amherst chancellor Robert C. Holub received $420,000, while UMass system president Jack M. Wilson made $546,000. Boston College president William P. Leahy, a Jesuit priest, has taken a vow of poverty and receives no salary.

Nationally, Touro College, a Jewish-sponsored school in New York City, paid its president the highest salary — $4.7 million, the vast majority of which was retroactive compensation for retirement benefits. Its founder and president, Bernard Lander, died in February.

The highest-paid sitting president was R. Gerald Turner of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who earned $2.7 million.

The university said the compensation was unusually high because Turner cashed out a life insurance policy to buy his own, accounting for $1.5 million of his total pay.

Among New England schools, Quinnipiac University in Connecticut paid its president $1.8 million, the sixth-highest total in the country.

Giannino-Racine said private colleges are abusing their nonprofit status by paying such high salaries yet raising costs beyond the means of most of the public.

“This strikes me as a moment we need to ask whether colleges are living up to that status,’’ he said. “It’s an alarm we should all be hearing.’’

The Chronicle report predicted that more presidents will surpass the $1 million mark as the baby boomers retire and receive large payouts.

The surge of retirements will also increase the competition for their replacements, “making colleges more willing to cut deals in presidential contracts for large payouts,’’ the report stated.

Peter Schworm can be reached at