College Employees Earn How Much? Eye-Popping Salaries Revealed

Top 10 compensated private college employees earned $32 million in 2006-07.

Feb. 23, 2009— -- A football coach, a dermatologist, an infertility specialist -- these are among some of the most highly compensated private college employees in the country, according to a new report released today.

While the average college professor makes a salary many would consider modest, the top 10 most highly compensated employees, according to the "Chronicle of Higher Education," brought in a combined $32 million in the 2007 fiscal year.

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That includes more than $4.4 million for University of Southern California football coach Pete Carroll and more than $4.3 million for Columbia University clinical professor of dermatology David Silvers, who rank No. 1 and 2 on the Chronicle's list. The list ranks employees other than chief executives or presidents.

Carroll has built USC into a football powerhouse, winning two national championships in the last six years. Silvers is a skin cancer specialist who heads the dermatopathology lab at Columbia's Medical Center.

"We've actually been arguing for some time that the wide disparity … in faculty salaries is a problem," said John Curtis, director of research and public policy for the American Association of University Professors.

While the Washington D.C.-based Chronicle will not take a stance on the merits of the multi-million salary and benefits packages these private college employees are getting, Chronicle editor Jeffrey Selingo told that the report reflects the trends that higher education is continuing to be run more like a business.

"Colleges are under a lot of pressure right now to control costs," Selingo said.

But at the same time, administrators know the best way to attract everything from federal grants, research dollars, medical patients and -- oh yeah -- students, is to shell out enough money to recruit the best in their field.

Selingo said there has been a longstanding myth when it comes to higher education that the college and university presidents were the highest paid. According to the Chronicle's most recent report on president compensation, released in November, former Vanderbilt University President E. Gordon Gee topped the list at just over $2 million.

That's less than half of what Carroll brought in the same year and a half-million less than Harry Jacobson, the most highly compensated Vanderbilt employee. Jacobson, the university's vice chancellor for health affairs, ranked No. 7 on the Chronicle's report with more than $2.5 million.

These numbers aren't straight salaries. They include benefits and other forms of income, including deferred compensation and bonuses. The rankings were based on figures taken from the federal tax filings of more than 4,000 employees at nearly 600 private colleges and universities.

Economic Stress -- Playing a Role?

Selingo said it's been five or six years since the Chronicle did such a study on employees. The project was started a few months ago to shed light on what colleges are paying out when so many are struggling to pay for tuition, he said.

Parents and students, he said, deserve to know where that money goes. Last week, student protestors at New York University clashed with police as they called for more transparency in university spending.

According to the WABC New York affiliate, the protestors were asked for information to be released on the university's budget, endowment, staff salaries and investment strategies.

The Chronicle publishes its president compensation rankings annually, but the economic crisis made a few other numbers stand out.

"Our feeling was that, in looking through the 990 (tax) forms this was based on, there were a lot of other eye-popping salaries," Selingo said.

When the University of Pennsylvania learned that Dr. Arthur Rubenstein, executive vice president and dean of the school of medicine, was ranked No. 4 on the list, they called the Chronicle to complain.

Susan Phillips, senior vice president and chief of staff for Penn medicine, said she thought the ranking was unfair, especially in this economic climate.

Rubenstein was listed with a total compensation of more than $3.3 million, but Phillips said that's only because he had a mandatory distribution of his pension when he turned 70. His salary for that year, she said, was just over $1.8 million.

"I personally wonder about the purpose," she said of the Chronicle's report. "I think that it has no bearing on the work that is provided."

Ron Sauder, vice president of communications at Emory University, noted that the No. 3 ranking of Dr. Michael Johns, executive vice president of health affairs, was largely based on an 11-year deferred compensation payment.

Johns, who is now the university's chancellor, was paid a salary of $335,000 that year, Sauder said. While Sauder said he didn't find Johns' spot on the list misleading, he did note that the deferred compensation accounted for $3.4 million of the more than $3.7 million in compensation that nabbed him the third-highest ranking.

But he agreed that there is "intense competition" for professors and administrators in the medical field who not only have the expertise, but also the judgment to run such a massive program.

Johns' ranking, he said, "certainly shows that Emory competes successfully for some of the best talent in the country."

In an e-mailed statement, a spokesman with the New York University Langone Medical Center -- referring to Dr. James Grifo, the center's program director of the NYU Fertility Center -- wrote that his earnings are appropriate. Grifo placed No. 10 on the list with nearly $2.4 million.

"Clinical medical school faculty are often compensated on a different basis than non-clinical faculty. Dr. Grifo's compensation reflects the direct medical care he provides to patients and does not come from tuition," the statement read. "As a nationally recognized infertility expert, his salary is commensurate with his expertise and the specialized care he provides to his patients."

Attempts were made to reach everyone on the Chronicle's top 10 list. No individual that was personally ranked responded.

Other than NYU, Emory University and the University of Pennsylvania, no other institution would comment on the report. Columbia University and the University of Southern California issued statements saying they don't comment on individual compensation.

Staying in the Competition

Eight of the employees in the Chronicle's top 10 work in the medical field. Selingo said that reflects a growing demand for highly specialized fields of study, most notably infertility.

It's these doctors that bring in a consistent and healthy revenue stream for the college in the form of research money, patients, surgery fees and the like. And colleges, Curtis said, often expect their doctors to raise enough revenue to cover their own salaries through such measures.

Curtis noted that even though the compensation figures in the top 10 are at the "extreme high end" of the scale "I think generally it's not a positive development."

And, he said, numbers like these can be very misleading for the public who may think salaries more than $1 million are the norm for such professors. But most make just a fraction of that, he said, noting that some Ph.Ds bring in less than $50,000.

"That wide range gives a sense that some kind of knowledge is more valuable than others," Curtis said.

The AAUP routinely compiles its own studies of salaries and compensation. In 2006-07, the same year the Chronicle's report is based on, the average salary for a faculty member at a private, independent college was $84,249. That figure dipped to $66,118 for private, religious colleges.

Carroll's No. 1 ranking on the Chronicle's list may raise eyebrows for its place atop a long list of esteemed doctors and researchers, but coaches and other sports administrators have long been near the top of many college and university payrolls.

Selingo noted that the biggest sports programs -- many of which are led by people with much higher salaries than Carroll's – are at public universities, which are not included in the Chronicle's report.

Carroll's management firm, Premier Sports & Entertainment, had no comment on his ranking or compensation and said Carroll would not be available for comment. A spokesman for USC said t was the university's policy not to comment on individual employee compensation.

Because sports programs rake in millions and millions for universities it behooves them to invest in the top personnel, Curtis noted.

According to Carroll's Web site, USC, under his coaching, was the first team to have three Heisman trophy winners in a four-year span. His teams won the national championship in 2003 and shared the championship title in 2004.

But so much focus on sports at institutions devoted to learning and research "really detracts from the fundamental mission," Selingo said.

"We simply ask," he said, "'What kind of priorities does that reflect?'''