The Highest Paid College President Made $3.3 Million

Douglas A. McIntyre
December 16, 2013

Every year, the Chronicle of Higher Education puts out its list of the compensation of 550 presidents at America's private colleges. Forty-two of them made more than $1 million in 2011, the latest year covered. Most extraordinary, two made more than $3 million. Robert Zimmerman of the University of Chicago topped the list at $3,358,723, which means he is paid as much as many CEOs of America's large companies.

To be fair, it should be noted that most of the presidents who made more than $1 million have held their jobs for a number of years -- and some more than a decade. A great majority are presidents of colleges that are routinely rated as America's best. This includes Columbia, Yale, Brown, Duke and Stamford. Alternatively, the presidents of several obscure colleges make the list, including the University of La Verne, where chief Stephen Morgan has been for 26 years. James Doti of Chapman University is on the list as well, after 20 years of service. So is John Lahey of Quinnipiac. Longevity plays a role in some pay packages, it seems.

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At the other end of the compensation list is evidence that running an obscure college is often not a well-paid job, and many of these people who are lowest paid are clergy. The Rev. Brian Shanley of Providence College made $59,195. The Rev. Joseph Levesque of Niagara made only $47,298. The Rev. Kevin Quinn, head of the University of Scranton, was paid only $47,305. In his case, it may have been because he had his job less than a year.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that college boards often have a justification, at least in their minds, for extraordinary pay packages for presidents:

When defending compensation of $1-million and more for college presidents, trustees and university officials often repeat a simple refrain: Attracting the best talent costs money.

It is the same case made by the boards of directors of large American companies. If the argument that the pool of very talented candidates for colleges and companies is true, boards have a reasonable defense.

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