In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the nation’s highest paid public university president was Graham B. Spanier, the president of Pennsylvania State University, who was forced out in November 2011 over his handling of a child sex abuse scandal involving a football coach.
According to the annual compensation report by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Spanier was paid $2.9 million in 2011-12, including $1.2 million in severance pay and $1.2 million in deferred compensation.
“The fact that Graham Spanier turns out to be the highest paid president in the country says something about the nature of compensation packages for people who leave under a cloud,” said Jack Stripling, the Chronicle reporter who worked on the survey. “Severance agreements are often very lucrative.”
University of California President Mark Yudof, who plans to teach law at UC Berkeley after stepping down in August, ranked eighth in the survey because of his retirement package. Yudof receives a base pay of $591,084 but is due to receive $265,065 annually upon retirement.
With a salary of $400,000, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi ranked 129th among the 212 chief executives at 191 universities and university systems surveyed. She also receives the use of the chancellor’s residence and an $8,916 car allowance.
In addition to Spanier, three other public university presidents also had compensation topping $1 million: Jay Gogue of Auburn University, at $2.5 million; E. Gordon Gee of Ohio State University, at $1.9 million; and Alan Merten of George Mason University, at $1.9 million. Merten retired from George Mason last June after 16 years as president.
Gee, who in 2007 became the first public university president to earn more than $1 million, had a base salary last year of $830,439, the highest among the 212 chief executives included in the Chronicle report.
He is known for prodigious fundraising energy, which has brought the university more than $1.6 billion since he took the post, and for the lavish lifestyle his job supports, including a rent-free mansion with an elevator, a pool and a tennis court and flights on private jets.
Stripling said there had been a sea change in the last few years, with the rich getting richer and some pay packages exceeding not just $1 million, but $2 million. Deferred compensation agreements can increase pay drastically, as was the case with Gogue, whose pay went from $720,000 to $2.5 million in a single year when he completed a five-year contract.
But the biggest growth last year, Stripling said, was in the $600,000 to $700,000 range, a category that included 28 chief executives, up from only 13 the previous year.
According to the Chronicle report, the median total compensation for the presidents of public research universities was $441,392, up 4.7 percent from the previous year’s $421,395. The median base salary, $373,800, was up 2 percent from $366,519 the previous year.
Among the California university executives included in the survey, Yudof ranked first and Katehi seventh.
Others were California State University Chancellor Charles Reed, $493,531 (78th nationally); UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, $458,640 (93rd); San Diego State University President Elliot Hirshman, $442,031 (107th); UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, $416,000 (123rd); UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake, $411,777 (126th); UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, $392,200 (134th); UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang, $330,885 (172nd); UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy White, $325,000 (174th); and UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal, $310,000 (180th).
Reed has retired and been replaced by White, who asked the CSU Board of Trustees to cut his base salary from $421,500 to $380,000 in recognition of CSU’s budget woes. UC has not named a permanent replacement for the Riverside campus.
Birgeneau also has retired. The salary of his successor, Nicholas Dirks, came in for sharp criticism from Gov. Jerry Brown. Dirks receives an annual base salary of $486,800 — a $50,000 increase from Birgeneau’s salary. That raise will be paid for by “private donors,” according to the UC Office of the President.
Rounding out the top 10 earners nationally were Jo Ann Gora of Ball State University ($984,647); Mary Sue Coleman of the University of Michigan system ($918,783); Charles Steger of Virginia Tech ($857,749); Bernard Machen of the University of Florida ($834,562); and Francisco Cigarroa of the University of Texas system ($815,833).
— Enterprise staff writer Cory Golden contributed to this report.