Livin' Large in LaLaLand; or, the Quackery of Setting a University President's Salary

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: May 23, 2012 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ
And you thought the let-em-eat-cake boys all work on Wall Street. Little did you know.

Have you taken a gander at the salary-plus of Florida's public-university presidents?

  • John C. Hitt, University of Central Florida, $741,500.
  • Judy Genshaft, University of South Florida, $592,400.
  • Mark B. Rosenberg, Florida International University, $561,875.
  • Eric J. Barron, Florida State University, $511,945.
  • Bernard J. Machen, University of Florida, $507,808.
  • James Ammons, Florida A&M University, $445,250.
  • Mary Jane Saunders, Florida Atlantic University, $381,161.
  • Judith A. Bense, University of West Florida, $277,436.

These presidents' 2010-11 compensation packages are on display for all to see in a special report just out in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The report analyzes 199 chief executives at 190 public universities in the United States. The only reason the presidents of the other three Florida universities aren't shown is because they weren't chosen for inclusion in the Chronicle's study.

Every one of these and the three omitted presidents are our employees. They work for us, the taxpayers of Florida, at a combined income of more than $5 million.

The report looks at private universities, too, and sure enough, there was University of Miami President Donna Shalala at $1.16 million in 2010-2011. Her pay actually dipped 1 percent from the prior year, but who cares? UM could buy her a Rolls Royce and a mansion on Key Biscayne and nobody but the UM family is likely to raise a finger. Shalala isn't on the taxpayers' dime.

It's the public universities that raise eyebrows -- or should. Especially in Florida, where these same shocked and dismayed university presidents are crying poorhouse because the Legislature slashed $300 million last session and the governor limited tuition increases to 5 percent.

Said a fiscally prudent Gov. Rick Scott the morning he signed the state budget, "Some of these universities are wanting to raise tuition 15 percent a year. I mean, name a business. Can you raise your advertising rates 15 percent year after year? You can’t. You wouldn’t be in business. Your competition wouldn’t let you.”

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Florida families struggle to send their kids to state universities. And the students themselves trade their future for loan after student loan.

It's the wrong time to see salaries of public-paid chief executives that eclipse the salaries of the president of the United States ($400,000) and the governor of Florida ($130,000 is approved, though Gov. Rick Scott has declined to collect it).

Nevertheless, the arrogance is astounding.

Stated the Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Public outcry over presidential pay (at state universities), which has become a potent political target in these lean economic times, appears to have done little to affect what presidents earn at public research institutions.”

At the same time, the median pay for a university professor is $139,500, up 2.2 percent from the prior year.

The world of public universities has always been a kind of closed society, where decisions -- while not exactly made in secret -- are perpetuated by an elite insider class that closely guards its authority. Peek behind the cloisters sometime. There are, per capita, more bums floating on clouds in a university administration than there are on Walt Disney World's Magic Carpet Ride.

These are not folks who are going to see presidents' salaries as a part of any real-world problem.

Add to the $5 million-plus in presidents' salaries a new compensation package. USF Polytechnic in Lakeland is breaking off into a separate university in the fall. It's a $39 million deal that better would have been vetoed. What kind of quackery, you have to ask yourself, will go into deciding how much salary the new president should draw? The successful candidate will preside over a university with zero students and a full STEM curriculum "to be announced."

This may be a good time to consider letting Sen. J.D. Alexander complete his legacy. The chairman of the powerful Senate Budget Committee from Lake Wales wanted a separate university in Lakeland, he wanted it now, he threw away the Senate rulebook to muscle it through. Perhaps he should get his heart's desire after all -- the presidency of the new school wags call "JD Poly" anyway -- in exchange for accepting no salary for the duration of his appointment.

But that's got to be the deal. No salary for wheeler-dealer JD.

I like that idea and I would be happy to present it formally. But would I be welcome inside academia's stone fortress?

Reach Nancy Smith at or at (850) 727-0859.


Comments (4)

1:49PM MAY 23RD 2012
NANCY - The role of a public university is to provide higher education, so answer me this:

(1) Why no complaints here by you about public university football coaches earning many times what a University President does - why no outrage here?

(2) Why shouldn't a top university President bringing in multiple millions of dollars to a university make at least 40% of what a comparable private university President makes if doing a comparable job? What should they get - 10% for a comparable job?

(3) Is it your view that simply because someone works for a public agency that they should make only 10-20% of what a comparable job in the private sector would make - is that really your belief?

(4) Why no mention of what public university Presidents in other states are making from the same report (i.e. a LOT MORE than in Florida). Just to mention a couple - $2 million (Ohio U & Texas A&M).

I guess I shouldn't be surprised from someone clearly demonizing everything to do with private education in Florida with such "fair and balanced" non-biased, non-spin verbage as:

let-em-eat-cake boys
raise eyebrows -- or should
crying poorhouse
arrogance is astounding
elite insider class
more bums floating on clouds in a university administration

You want to attack the unneeded approval of a 12th university, I'll back you up.

You want to complain about Florida public professor and university salaries that don't even come close to what most of them could make in the private market (or even in other out-of-state univerisities), well, you're just being a little disingenuous and unrealistic about what it takes in that market to have quality education.

Unless, of course, your point is that we shouldn't pay those Ph.D.s in higher education more than your retirement salary. That is the real point, isn't it?
9:50AM JUN 4TH 2012
To your first point, there is no outcry about football coach salaries for this reason: IT IS NOT TAXPAYER FUNDED. Public Universities have Athletic Departments, who generate their OWN money from ticket sales in Football and Basketball and use that money to pay their coaches as well as pay a handsome fee to the University. Taxpayers do not pay anything for a Collegiate Coach, but a University president is coming out of OUR pockets. And private education SHOULD be able to attract the better professors, and SHOULD be providing a higher quality education. That is why they are more expensive. Check your facts before trying to make an argument.
3:20PM JUN 4TH 2012
I'm so glad you believe you have your facts correct - unfortunately, that doesn't fly because its simply incorrect.

Public university coaches receive salaries paid for by the public. Some (such as football coaches at major public universities) receive additional funds from other sources, but public university coaches receive a basic salary from public monies (and that's viewable online).

Check your facts before trying to make an argument.
John Pru
8:31AM MAY 23RD 2012

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