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Million-dollar college presidents on the rise

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By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 15, 2010; 12:35 AM

George Washington University President Steven Knapp earned $985,353 in pay and benefits in 2008, making him the best-paid chief executive of any private college in the Washington area, according to an annual survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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Nationwide, 30 chief executives of private colleges earned more than $1 million in total pay and benefits in 2008, according to the report released Sunday and based on a survey of tax documents for 448 colleges.

The million-dollar college president is a recent phenomenon. No president earned that much in 2004. Last year's Chronicle survey found 23 seven-figure presidents. Industry leaders note that the vast majority of presidents earn far less; million-dollar pay is often the result of a lower salary padded with a large, one-time payment.

"It's X number of presidents out of 4,500 institutions. It's half of 1 percent," said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, representing presidents and provosts. "About half the people on that list have a very good reason why they earned that money."

The top earner among private college executives in 2008 was Bernard Lander, founder and president of Touro College in New York, who died in February after building a network of 31 schools and colleges. Most of his $4.8 million in pay will go to his estate.

Presidents earning more than $1 million include Steven Sample at the University of Southern California ($1.9 million), Lee Bollinger at Columbia University ($1.8 million), Richard Levin at Yale ($1.5 million), Nancy Cantor at Syracuse ($1.4 million) and Donna Shalala at the University of Miami ($1.2 million). Sample's term has ended.

Knapp's compensation, just shy of the million-dollar mark, was set by GWU's trustees based on market data for leaders with similar experience at other national universities, said Candace Smith, university spokeswoman. Knapp came to GWU three years ago from the provost's job at Johns Hopkins and has three decades of higher education experience.

"Our goals for George Washington are monumental," said Russell Ramsey, the board chairman. "The board feels our compensation levels are competitive with universities of our caliber."

A year ago, former GWU President Stephen J. Trachtenberg topped the Chronicle list at $3.7 million, a figure that included a large lump-sum payment to the departing leader.

In the survey released Sunday, Georgetown President John DeGioia ranked second in pay among leaders in the region with $911,613 in compensation. Former Johns Hopkins President William Brody ranked third with $851,155; his term ended in 2009. American University President Cornelius "Neil" Kerwin ranked fourth with $760,774.

AU officials said Kerwin's pay included a base salary of $480,609 and several other forms of compensation, some to be held in reserve.

Apart from Brody, six Maryland and Virginia college presidents earned more than $500,000: Stevenson University's Kevin Manning ($623,437), Hampden-Sydney College's Walter Bortz III ($597,327), Gallaudet University's Robert Davila ($584,745), Catholic University's Very Rev. David O'Connell ($521,929), Washington and Lee's Kenneth Ruscio ($505,119) and McDaniel College's Joan Develin Coley ($504,776).

The terms of Bortz, Davila and O'Connell have ended. O'Connell's pay was collected not by the president but by his religious order.

Presidential salaries "have virtually no impact on tuition increases," said David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, because they account for only a tiny percentage of overall campus budgets.

Salaries are typically set through marketplace studies and reflect "the stressful 24/7 nature of the position," he said.


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