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ISSUE 117 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/12/2004

University president salaries on the rise

By Jaruwan Punyoyai
Contributing Writer


Friday, March 12, 2004

In an age of million-dollar sports contracts and billion-dollar corporate buyouts, a new position is starting to garner wages exceeding a million dollars. The position of college president is becoming increasingly lucrative, to a point at which some are beginning to ask, "How much is too much?"

According to the Chronicle of Higher Learning, the number of public university presidents earning $500,000 or more annually has doubled this year. Shirley Ann Jackson, who serves as president for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received $891,400 in pay and benefits in the 2002 fiscal year. Combined with the $591,000 she receives for serving on eight corporate boards, she amasses $1,482,400 annually.

The three highest-paid college presidents in the country earn an average of $862,966 a year in salary from their respective colleges.

Some fear that this trend may hit close to home. The former president of Gustavus Adolphus College, Axel Steuer, who stepped down in May 2002, was the sixth-highest paid president among liberal arts colleges, with an annual salary of $379,205. Steuers salary is significantly larger than President Christopher Thomfordes earnings of $205,000. In fact, Thomfordes salary is below the liberal arts average of $216,170. However, that average has risen steadily over recent years, growing by $36,781 since the 1997-98 average of $179,389.

Thus, in an age of budget deficits and rising tuition, some are questioning the logic behind such large salary increases. Thomfordes response was sympathetic to those concerns.

"You dont assume the ministry thinking youre going to give [baseball player] Alex Rodriguez or [investment mogul] Warren Buffett a run for their money," Thomforde said. "My salary is decided by the board, which is a decision to invest the money in the interest of the students. My salary is terrific."

Thomforde has not always been so comfortably compensated. According to the College website, Thomforde, a 1969 Princeton graduate, taught at Tunghai University in Taiwan, received his masters in divinity from Yale and completed his doctorate in ministry at Princeton before going on to work in the ministry.

Thomforde served as assistant chaplain and instructor in philosophy and religion at Colgate, was a parish pastor at St. Pauls Lutheran Church in Dansville, N.Y., and served as chaplain of Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Penn. In 1996 he accepted the presidency of Bethany College, and in 2000 was selected as the president of St. Olaf College.

Reflecting on his work in the ministry, Thomforde said, "My first salary was $8,000 a year. Later it was $13,000, and then $25,000. What I earn seems fine to me, but there is a different range of pay for different professions. A baseball player may make more than a teacher or doctor. But I dont believe that range is a true reflection of their value to society."

So what is the return on the investment in Thomfordes salary? "I am working as president from 7:00 in the morning to 9:30 at night, every day." Thomforde said. He explains that half of his time is spent as an ambassador of the college, raising money and representing St. Olaf. Another fourth of his time is spent as a CEO, working with administration. This involves mediating conflicts and balancing the budget. The rest of his time is devoted equally to teaching and learning, and acting as a prophet figure. He explains the latter of these as an attempt to make sure the school is focused on the importance of life. It is a position that questions how we are doing as human beings. These duties, as Thomforde sees them, are the reason that St. Olaf is investing in him.

Richard L. McCormick, Rutgers University president, was the third- highest paid public college president in the country, with a total compensation of $625,000. This sum is more than three times that of Thomfordes. However, McCormicks salary appears modest as a percentage of Rutgers University's budget. According to its annual financial report, the combination of the Univer-sitys revenues was $1,265,301,000 in 2003. This sum takes into account student tuition, grants and contracts, auxiliary enterprises, state appropriations (including fringe benefits paid directly by the state), gifts, endowment and investment income, unrealized gain (or loss) on marketable securities and interest on capital asset related debt.

St. Olaf has a total revenue of $84,853,595, according to the annual statement released by the college. Because of Rutgers much larger revenues, McCormicks salary is only .0494 percent of the budget, while Thomfordes salary is .242 percent of St. Olafs budget. Therefore, as a percentage, McCormick makes considerably less than Thomforde.

However, Thomforde insists that sometimes, it is not the statistics that matter; it is the practicality of such massive salaries. "You get to a point with such large salaries, where you have to ask, What are you going to do with that money? I dont know what I would do."

For the time being, presidential salaries are still on the rise. Thomforde is happy with his salary and also with the working environment at St. Olaf. "A good thing about being president is that there are many capable people here." He explains that he is working just as hard as he did as a parish minister. But for now, his salary is just a simple case of supply and demand.


This is part two of a four week series on the changing college budget.


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