Ex-president of GWU leads in survey of pay in 2007-08

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 2, 2009

Former George Washington University president Stephen J. Trachtenberg received $3.7 million in pay and benefits in 2007-08, $2 million more than the total compensation that year for any other current or former leader in private higher education in the United States, according to a survey of executive pay released Monday.

Compensation for presidents of private colleges and universities rose 6.5 percent in 2007-08, to a median of $358,746, according to an annual survey of 419 institutions by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The trade publication analyzed federal tax documents for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

Within a more select group of major private research universities, median pay rose 15.5 percent to $627,750. That group includes American University President Cornelius M. Kerwin, who received $1.4 million in 2007-08, fifth among all current presidents in the survey.

Steven Knapp, former provost of Johns Hopkins University, replaced Trachtenberg at GWU, where he received $379,000 in 2007-08. At other Washington area institutions, former Johns Hopkins president William Brody received $1.1 million in 2007-08; Georgetown President John DeGioia, $643,000; and former Howard University president H. Patrick Swygert, $560,000.

The survey does not account for the recession, which sapped college endowments and prompted many institutions to freeze or cut presidents' pay this academic year, according to the report.

"While the pay of private college presidents continues to increase, our reporting shows that the economy is clearly having an impact on their paycheck," said Jeffrey J. Selingo, editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, which has published the compensation survey since 1989.

"Presidents are giving back some of their pay, or trustees are freezing salaries. Both groups are worried about how the public perceives a high salary at a time when budgets are being slashed and tuition continues to increase."

Selingo said that 58 private colleges charge more than $50,000 a year in tuition, room, board and fees, compared with five last year. Some education specialists said that the higher education industry needs tighter cost controls.

"They kept spending full-bore right up until the crisis hit, including handsome raises for themselves," said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the nonprofit American Enterprise Institute.

The Chronicle previously released a companion survey on public university presidents, whose compensation is rising at a similar clip, although fewer public university presidents make more than $1 million. The University of Virginia's longtime president, John T. Casteen III, received nearly $800,000 in 2007-08 from public and private sources, making him the third-highest-paid public university president.

The survey of private institutions found that 23 current presidents make more than $1 million. Topping that list is Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., with $1.6 million in salary and benefits. Jackson has served since 1999 and is regarded as a top academic leader in science.

For the first time this year, the Chronicle analyzed pay to former officers. The survey found that three former presidents drew seven figures: Trachtenberg; former Oberlin College president Nancy S. Dye, $1.5 million; and former Emory University president Michael M.E. Johns, $1 million.

Trachtenberg served as president of GWU for 19 years, leaving in 2007. He is credited with elevating the school's national profile and building its identity as a university for future leaders.

"My compensation reflected the thinking of many GW Trustees over a period of two decades," Trachtenberg said in an e-mail. "They took great care to use outside professionals, CPAs, lawyers and such, every time they renewed my contract. And decided on my pay. Year by year. 19 times. They wanted to do the right thing for me and the University."

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