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University leaders’ pay soars

Virtually nothing is known yet about the next president of Washington State University.

The effort to find a replacement for the retiring V. Lane Rawlins is just beginning. Advisory committees are being formed, and a search firm hired. Officials hope to make a decision by spring, with a new boss in place for the next academic year.

But one thing seems very likely: The next president will make more money than the current one, who makes a very good living.

Rawlins’ compensation for the 2006-07 school year is $514,450, and while he has turned down raises in earlier years, his pay has risen steeply since he was hired in 2000. He’s one of 23 public university presidents nationwide who earned more than half a million dollars in total compensation last year – salary plus bonuses and perks – according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

And the WSU regent in charge of the search process says the school will probably need to pay more to make the position competitive.

“I think that’s the market for the type of president we’ll be looking for, and the top presidents in the country,” said Rafael Stone, the WSU regent who’s overseeing the search process.

Rawlins is the best paid among college presidents in this area, but at Eastern Washington University, the University of Idaho, Gonzaga and Whitworth, a similar pattern has emerged. Over the past five years, presidential salaries at those institutions have increased between 37 percent and 70 percent – much faster than pay for professors and other employees.

Stone and other officials say that the rising pay reflects the reality of the modern marketplace and the need to compete with the private sector and other top universities to attract talent. They say the job of university president has grown increasingly prominent and pressurized, with high demands for fundraising, lobbying and public leadership.

Critics, especially those among the faculty and in employee unions, say that the divide between top administrators and the rank-and-file is unhealthy, especially in recent years when simple cost-of-living raises have not always been forthcoming for employees of public universities. In the past two years, WSU faculty have received average raises of 5 percent and 3 percent.

“One person doesn’t make a university,” said Charles Pezeshki, chairman of the Faculty Senate at WSU. “It’s a bunch of us that make a university. … We’ve seen executive pay in the administrative cadre go up and up and up, and faculty pay has languished.”

The issue became part of the public, contentious negotiations over the recent faculty contract at EWU. Chronicle of Higher Education statistics showed that faculty salaries at EWU had risen just 8 percent between 1999-2000 and 2005-2006. Over the same time period, the pay for the school’s top four administrators rose between 19 percent and 26 percent.

And new President Rodolfo Arevalo is earning a salary of $200,000 – 37 percent more than the president was paid six years ago – not including perks.

Nationwide, according to research by the American Association of University Professors, administrative salaries rose 29 percent between 1995 and 2005. Faculty salaries during the same time went up 9 percent.

“Governing board members have argued that, given the pay opportunities available in the private sector, high presidential salaries are needed to attract and retain highly qualified senior academic administrators,” according to the AAUP report. “The same argument, however, would seem to apply equally to faculty compensation.”

Market forces

Rawlins jokes that he doesn’t want anyone to know that he’d do the job for less money. But he did turn down raises in his first couple of years on the job, when budgets weren’t going to include raises for faculty and staff.

“I was going to be the only person getting a raise, and I didn’t think that was appropriate,” Rawlins said.

Still, he doesn’t think that it’s unfair if presidential salaries rise faster than other salaries on campus.

“If we want to talk fair, why in the world are coaches paid seven-figure salaries?” he said. “What we’re talking about is not fairness, we’re talking about markets.”

Rawlins, who will retire at the end of this academic year, said the governing boards of colleges have placed ever greater importance on the job of president. Expectations for fundraising, lobbying the legislature and other off-campus leadership – often called “external” duties – have increased. The universities want to lure proven, experienced administrators to the top job.

Often, that means putting together ever-more-attractive compensation packages, including bonuses and other perks. A large portion of Rawlins’ compensation comes from nearly $200,000 in various bonuses, as well as the use of a home and car.

Pezeshki, the Faculty Senate chairman at WSU, said he thinks Rawlins has done a good job and considers him a friend. But he said the shift toward paying higher and higher salaries for the very top administrators while employee salaries fall behind is an unfortunate reflection of the way things work in corporations.

“It’s emblematic of society as a whole, and it’s not good,” he said.

The WSU Faculty Senate did a salary survey that showed the school’s average faculty pay was 16.5 percent behind its peer institutions – similar schools WSU uses to compare its performance and set goals. Pezeshki said that raises for WSU professors have consistently fallen well below the annual tuition increase of 7 percent – meaning that the more time passes, the less college professors can afford to send their children to school.

While that’s also true for many other workers, professors say that it’s damaging to morale and the sense of community when their raises fall so much below those paid to administrators.

“Should a college professor be able to afford to send their kids to college?” he asks.

State picks up tab

In 2000, the UI Foundation began contributing to the compensation package of then-President Bob Hoover. By 2002, Hoover was paid $237,500 through the Foundation – $150,000 in an annuity and $87,500 in direct compensation.

Such agreements flourished at some schools, as universities attempted to keep up with escalating pay for presidents. But after Hoover resigned in the wake of a mismanaged attempt to expand into Boise – a project that was marked by critics for its blurring of the lines between the university and its private fundraising foundation – the state Board of Education changed the rules on presidential salaries.

“Presidents work for the state of Idaho,” said Luci Willits, spokeswoman for the board. “They do not work for foundations.”

Now, all of UI President Tim White’s $286,188 salary is paid by the state – as is Rawlins’ compensation.

In an interview, White agreed that faculty salaries have been falling behind. He’s lobbied legislators and the state board for more money for faculty salaries and said UI faculty are paid at about 20 percent below the median salaries for its peer institutions.

But he also echoed Rawlins’ comments about the market forces driving presidential salaries upward.

“If one were to artificially depress the president’s salary, the pool of people interested is going to be very small,” he said. “What is in Washington State University’s best interest is to find the very best talent they can afford.”

‘Plenty of money’

When Bill Robinson was first hired as a college president, he earned a salary of $60,000. That was 1986 at Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind.

Now Robinson’s compensation as Whitworth College president is more than $270,000. While that pay is good by many measures, it’s not necessarily so when compared to many other presidents of private colleges, whose salaries sometimes make those paid at public colleges pale in comparison. Several earn more than a million a year, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Robinson was recently recruited for a job paying half-a-million a year, but said he wasn’t interested.

Still, “It’s impossible not to say, I wonder if that person is that much better than me?” he said.

Robinson said comparing presidential compensation is not an exact science, because institutions report benefits and bonuses differently. But he also said that the trend in recent years to tally up total compensation rather than just salaries is a more accurate way to reflect what presidents are paid.

Robinson has also been resistant to accepting raises, he said, and has donated thousands of dollars back to Whitworth “so I can put my head on the pillow at night.”

“I make plenty of money,” he said. “Having a staff and faculty that respect my integrity is way more important than making another $20,000.”

“It’s really gotten competitive. … Rightly or wrongly, boards think the president makes a huge difference in the welfare of the university and they’re paying a lot of money to get good ones.”