How Much Dough Is Too Much Dough for College Presidents?

The compensation wars spill onto college campuses

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Debates over college costs and executive compensation--two topics that can raise the bile of even the most mild-mannered populist--have converged in a new study by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Why? The Chronicle reports that 23 private-college presidents took home $1 million-plus paychecks in 2007-2008. Some CEOs and bankers may have received bigger salaries, critics point out that in those years these colleges took massive hits to their endowments. Even the median president received $627,750 during those years, as the New York Times notes. Do they deserve it?

  • Obscure Institutions Pay Big Bucks  "Perhaps the most amazing thing," writes 24/7 Wall St.'s Douglas McIntyre, "about the list of college and university president who made over $1 million is how many of them run second and even third tier schools." He argues that while Shirley Ann Jackson, who made $1.598 million, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute runs "runs a fairly well-regarded engineering school ... it is hardly MIT." His extrapolation, however, that "[a]ll that talk about teachers being poorly paid is just nonsense," seems unlikely to sit well with those who do not consider college presidents to be teachers, or those familiar with the gap in pay even between a high school instructor and a college professor.
  • So This is What Astronomically High Tuition Is Paying For Half Sigma at a blog of the same name also noted the presence of non-elite schools on the top compensation list. "No wonder why the cost of college education is so high," Half Sigma writes. "The students' tuition has to pay for the college president’s salary."
  • Inappropriate Americablog's Chris Ryan makes no more excuses for college presidents than for bankers. "There's nothing wrong with making lots of money," he says, "and teachers have historically been undervalued but college presidents sound too much like corporate CEOs." Even before the recession, he argues, the enormous salaries were bad, but '[t]oday as college tuition is being hit with double digit increases, it's going to be much more hard to stomach."
  • Show Is Important  "I'll spare you the populist rant," begins Riley Waggaman at True Slant. "I'm much more interested in why institutions feel the need to pay their presidents so much." Here's his explanation:
The president is the prize pony of the college: It’s not uncommon for a president to live in a fancy-schmancy mansion owned and maintained by his/her institution. It’s an image thing ... This is basic corporate arithmetic. How much money you make = How "successful" and "valuable" you are. If you’re not making good money, you’re probably some sort of pathetic invalid with communist leanings.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.