Millionaire College Presidents

Popup The New York Times reports that 23 college presidents now make over $1 million per year.

The president of American University gets paid $1.4 million. Nearly 1/4 of American's teaching staff is comprised of adjuncts. They pay them $2,000 per semester. That seems fair.


16 thoughts on “Millionaire College Presidents

  1. I couldn’t get at the full list of 23, but the top ones are at universities which are not established great universities but, presumably, are aspriring to be. Getting the right president in the right moment can make a huge difference to whether a school makes that break, and they are all betting on making it. Salary is one way of making the bet (these are high salaries, but putting the money elsewhere wouldn’t make a huge difference to the effectiveness of the mission).
    Journalists who write about tuition and only mention the sticker price should go and report something easy to deal with, like yard sales.

  2. Does it seem odd that many of the top earners are at places that are less than fantastic schools? RPI is a pretty good school, and my understanding is that it has improved a lot lately, but it’s still a few steps below the top for schools of its sort, and Suffolk and Tulsa are not schools I would have suspected would be among the top, especially since it would be a surprise to me if Tulsa was overflowing with money. (Who knows- maybe they have a lot of oil money or something, but it seems odd.)

  3. I didn’t see Harry’s comment before posting mine, and I don’t know about some of these schools, but this, the top ones are at universities which are not established great universities but, presumably, are aspriring to be. Getting the right president in the right moment can make a huge difference to whether a school makes that break
    is largely true about RPI as far as I understand. My understanding is that it was once one of the top engineering schools in the country but fell behind around WWII and is now trying hard to get back in the top group. It’s still a ways behind, as far as I know, but has made impressive strides. Other of the school, though, seem likely to be cases where the president is close buddies with the people setting the pay and is using the school as a bank account. There have been more than a few such cases over the years.

  4. I suppose it’s not *quite* as bad as the multimillion dollar salaries of CEOs, but I’m guessing the wage gap is similar. Yes, a good president can do a lot for a school as can a cadre of well-paid full time professors.

  5. harryb: “putting the money elsewhere wouldn’t make a huge difference to the effectiveness of the mission”
    If the president of AU were to be paid a measly $950K/year, a hundred adjuncts could have their compensation doubled.
    Given how much of the teaching there is being conducted by adjuncts, and given that none of them could live on their AU compensation without another income in the household, the “effectiveness of the mission” would be significantly improved — assuming that you think a college’s mission has anything to do with what happens in the classroom.

  6. Do adjuncts make minimum wage, if you calculate their wages as hourly? Just wondering — I think in many other industries the basement for staff salaries is not quite as bad as the academic basement.

  7. I am going to have to agree with Nell, maybe harry b makes millions himself, but for the rest of us a slight redistribution in the president’s salary to faculty pay would easily double or triple our total earnings. At my institution I calculate that the president makes an amount equal to that paid to the entire faculty. But, it is hard to tell because the budget is secret even though it is largely funded by the US State Department.

  8. What I said was that it wouldn’t make a huge difference to the effectiveness of the organisation; which neither of you have contradicted. Of course, if what J Otto Pohl is saying is true of his institution that’s different, but I was talking about the very large institutions on the bit of the list I saw. Just to be clear: I am outraged by high salaries, whomever gets them, and would advocate 90% or higher tax rates if I thought there was any chance of them being implemented. I’m just not at all surprised that large organisations ina competitive game where tens (or sometimes hundreds) of millions are at stake, and good or lucky presidential decisions can make a big difference to an institution’s position in that game, pay very high salaries: I think its entirely rational, within the game they’re playing, which is about making money to pursue their mission (some of which is admirable, some of which is not).

  9. “I’m just not at all surprised that large organisations ina competitive game where tens (or sometimes hundreds) of millions are at stake, and good or lucky presidential decisions can make a big difference to an institution’s position in that game, pay very high salaries:”
    It seems to me that it’s not really wise to cheap out on a salary to a guy who is overseeing a billion dollar endowment, multiple hundred million dollar construction projects, and who is out hustling for money for a university tens of millions of dollars at a time. In a single well-spent afternoon, a university president could easily justify his salary for the year. I’m not saying that the people who are getting $1 million a year deserve it, but at least some college presidents would be.

  10. There may be very good, rational reasons for paying a college president over 1 million. He may even deserve that much money, though I doubt it.
    The problem isn’t the absolute dollar amount, but his salary relative to the lowest paid employees in the institutions. And it’s not the guys in the mailroom. It’s the people who spent ten years in grad school getting a PhD and they make less than minimum wage (after you figure in prep time and grading) to do the most important job in the institution, which is the teaching.
    This is a fairness issue. The only reason that I care how much the president of American makes is because 1/4 of his staff is living off Ramen noodles.

  11. My institution is very interesting, and I wish I could talk about it more specifically. First of all, we have two presidents. The main one makes $600K+, according to the CHE. I have no idea how much the second one makes.
    Last week I went to a presentation by admin to staff and faculty about the success of our strategic plan. I thought it was really interesting how these business types (they all came up through our business faculty) who seem mainly conservative (though who knows, I don’t talk to them about politics) stood there and explained how they decided, in the face of the economic downturn, to deal with it not by cutting spending but by spending more in certain strategic areas, i.e., faculty pay and student aid. Now, they haven’t raised adjunct pay all that much, afaict, but they did give us our annual raises.
    That said, we have so many people teaching part-time who have jobs in the industries our graduates go into. They aren’t eating ramen noodles. They’re doing friends a favor and earning a little extra money in addition to their other businesses. The adjuncts in my humanities departments are sometimes noodle-eaters, but often they are retired teachers. We’re just a different kind of institution.

  12. I’m an adjunct at AU (and in the lowest paid category). I make over the stated amount that the Chronicle and this blog has published. The Chronicle used a casual, approximated quote from the Post (one that was incomplete, did not tell the whole story, and was incorrect). Moreover, our president does not have an annual salary and compensation package that totals $1.4 million. Please see the university’s statement on the subject. Finally, the stat saying that 1/4 of its teaching staff are adjuncts is also not telling the whole story. It has do with how AU classifies employees. If they classified people differently, then their rate would be much lower (probably lower that state institutions). Regardless of the classification, an adjunct can only teach 2 classes per year and the university has been and will continue to expand its tenure lines. This will reduce the amount of “adjuncts” as well as full-time instructors (who are paid well, especially considering that they do not have a research or service requirement, and often ABD or have professional masters/JD). Also, adjunct work is not expected to provide a livable wage. In most departments and for the most part university-wide, adjuncts are professionals who have their advanced degrees and can bring practical experience into the classroom. Many of whom are alumni and want to give back to the university. We do have a few people choose to adjunct at numerous institutions to support themselves. AU pays their adjuncts roughly the same wages as other schools in the area. Some are higher and some are lower.
    I wish journalist, bloggers, and others would check their facts before cut and pasting something from the internet.

  13. An adjunct who defends the system? How interesting. How strange. OK, Karen. I got the $2,000 dollar amount from a Washington Post article. If that number was incorrect, it was only slightly so. Adjuncts make, on average, between $2,000 and $3,000 per class. I know, because I’ve done it. A lot. I taught a graduate school class at an Ivy League institution and made $3,000 for the entire semester.
    Adjuncts in the humanities and social sciences do not teach the class out of the goodness of heart to give back to a beloved alma mater. They do it because either they need the teaching experience or because they were unable to get a tenure track position and they need to bide their time until the next hiring season. Neither reason justifies the low wage.
    There are adjuncts in the professional schools who may adjunct for other reasons — they enjoy the classroom, they get off on the prestige of teaching at a university, it gives them an advantage in their profession. Universities may even pay them more than the adjunct who teaches the remedial writing class.
    So, there are two very different types of adjuncts at a university and it’s rather disturbing that the privileged adjuncts feel so little sympathy for the less privileged adjuncts. It does help to explain the collective action problem.
    You say that adjunct work is not expected to provide a livable wage. That’s crazy. It should. It’s a job that requires highly advanced education and skills. It’s not uncommon for adjuncts in the humanities and social sciences to teach five classes a semester. It’s their sole source of income. Many of whom are supporting families on that money, and have to rely on government support to put food on the table. Would anybody argue that the barista in Starbucks should make less than minimum wage, because it so much fun to make coffee?
    Universities rely on cheap labor. At CUNY, 60% of the staff are adjuncts and teach about half the classes. It’s a problem. I’m sorry if you don’t think that’s a problem, Karen. I do.

  14. My dad’s adjuncting a couple of math courses for the community college extension this term (very small town), on top of his usual commitments (store, farm, book-writing, micro-publishing, etc.). I’m hoping to get a full report from him soon, but as I understand it, these are his motivations:
    1. math is fun
    2. he wants to freshen up his knowledge of the subject (he last taught a math course about ten years ago)
    3. to help out the main college teachers, who are in poor health
    4. he’s literally the most qualified person in town to do it
    5. basic math is a bottleneck for many of the community college students (many of them in their 30s) who would like to move ahead and improve themselves
    He hasn’t mentioned the pay at all, but I’m sure it’s nice to get something, especially in the winter when things are slow at the store.

  15. Wendy said the same thing, about a fair number of adjuncts at her place being people who do it for fun (and the honorarium) rather than the pay. I think that group of adjuncts has to be considered, because they’re the philosophical justification — adjudicating (the word itself) was invented for that person, the person who is doing something else, but enjoys teaching as an avocation and opportunity to spread knowledge.
    Purely practically, the low wage of adjuncts is set by the market. The market is influenced both by people who “choose” adjuncting ’cause they feel they have no other option and those who choose it because it’s fun, a positive value in their life. Collective action to pressure adjuncts out of the teaching business (because of low pay) affects the two groups differently. One may gain as well as loose (because they may get professional employment, at the cost of however many lost jobs there would be). But, the second group gains nothing, since they don’t want professional employment, and they would loose the fun they derive from teaching.
    Then, we get to the problem of how to pay in a profession where people will do the work for love and fun and to make a contribution and not devalue the profession, a problem being faced in journalism (where bloggers are the among those undermining the market) and writing in general and not-for-profit work (Penelope Trunk has a nice riff on not-for-profit work).

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