Presidents’ pay climbs; Dease earns about $300K

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that some private college presidents are shaking off the recession and are on their way to becoming millionaires.

presidentcompsIn the Nov. 8 issue, The Chronicle released a report based on the IRS filings of 419 nonprofit private colleges, showing that the median compensation of private college presidents increased 6.5 percent during the 2007-08 fiscal year.

The Chronicle also said 23 of those private college presidents earned at least $1 million in 2007-2008.

So does that mean schools like St. Thomas and other local private colleges are harboring handsomely paid presidents? Mark Deinhart, executive vice president and chief administrative officer, is not so sure. But he said he believes universities have valid reasons for emptying pockets for their presidents.

“This whole idea of million-dollar presidents applies to only very few institutions,” Dienhart said. “The reason presidents are making more money is because institutions and boards of trustees are relying on them more to go out and generate more revenue.”

Earning their share

Dienhart points to a shift in the societal view of higher education as a reason that college presidents are putting in extra hours for fundraising. Dienhart said in the past, the emphasis was to put money into higher education, but now more money goes into early childhood, elementary and secondary education. This means less help from the government when it comes to things like regulating tuition or dishing out financial aid. It becomes the president’s job to find a way to cover those costs.

As presidents are the faces of their institutions, Deinhart is not surprised they make the money they do.

“It’s kind of like saying ‘Why does [University of Minnesota head basketball coach] Tubby Smith get paid what Tubby Smith gets paid?’” Deinhart said. “Well Tubby Smith gets paid because that’s what the market is … Tubby brings in a lot more money than [U of Minnesota head baseball coach] John Anderson, so Tubby’s market is a heck of a lot different than Anderson’s is.”

A new trend?

According to the Rev. John Malone, vice president for mission and a member of the board of trustees that decides the president’s salary, St. Thomas and other religious universities didn’t always pay their presidents such hefty amounts. But the times demanded a change.

“The board of trustees were shocked coming from the business world to see … all the talents that it takes to be president that they thought it inappropriate not to compensate them better than how they had been compensating,” Malone said.

Dienhart said the trend of big money payoffs for private-college presidents depends on the economy. He said it will be hard for colleges to keep dishing out cash in a sustained economic lull. It’s too hard on colleges to be cutting corners in other areas to keep their presidents paid, he said, so eventually something’s got to give.

Dease’s income

The Chronicle reported St. Thomas’ president, the Rev. Dennis Dease, makes $312,717 in total compensation. That ranks him third highest in the ACTC schools. While it may seem odd to some that a priest makes a six-figure income, there is valid reasoning behind it, Malone said.

Malone notes while Dease is a priest, he doesn’t belong to a particular order or religious community, which means instead of the school giving the money to those groups, Dease receives direct compensation. He’s able to take the money because he’s a secular priest and did not take a vow of poverty. In comparison, St. Catherine’s president Sister Andrea Lee, has her compensation listed as $0 because her paycheck goes straight toward the order that she belongs to.

Malone defended Dease’s pay by saying what Dease makes isn’t necessarily up to him alone.

“He didn’t ask for it,” Malone said. “A lot of presidents make much more than he does…and much of that is because he doesn’t want to make more.”

Ben Katzner can be reached at

9 Replies to “Presidents’ pay climbs; Dease earns about $300K”

  1. I would like to commend Fr. Dease on his humanitarian efforts. Through his work towards the development of health clinics in Uganda, Fr. Dease makes a difference in the world. He is truly an inspiration. As a leader of faith, charity, and academics, Fr. Dease represents our university well. Personally, I am happy to see him make over $300 K… I can only imagine the good he will accomplish

  2. Irresponsible spending like six and a half percent raises are exactly why it costs so much to come to St. Thomas, and why tuition, room, board, and fees go up so much every year. Part of the problem is exactly the opposite of what the article suggests. College costs increase at about twice the cost of inflation (see: ). A huge part of the problem of why the cost increases so much, is because of federal student aid (see: ). Since so much money is available to students through government loans, the up front cost is lower, but the college’s revenue is significantly higher. Grove City College actually recognized this problem, and no students are allowed to have federal student aid. Now surely, a private institution that does not allow any federal aid for students must have extremely large costs right? Wrong, Grove City is one of the least, if not the very least expensive private college, with annual tuition under $13000, or less than half the cost of St. Thomas. Maybe we should hold off on the gigantic raises for the 115+ people at St. Thomas making over $100,000 until they come up with cost saving measures, instead of wildly spending our money.

  3. I completely agree with Stephan. I personally feel this is an outrage that College Students continually see fee and tuition increases, while professors and the President of our school sees PAY increases. This is ridiculous spending. How come the Economics Department can’t make some recommendations to the board about fiscal responsibility? Cut the fees and the salary, it will make College more affordable for students who choose a private education over a public one. Just look at Jesuit Priests, they take a vow of poverty and do not demand making six figures.

  4. I have no objection to pay increases for college presidents *per se*, particularly not in this new era of college presidents as fundraisers-in-chief. They work very hard; it is just to reward that hard work financially.

    However, in a year when faculty and staff saw a salary freeze? When tuition for the students (and the taxpayers, who heavily subsidize the students) jumped another chunkful of percentage points? When the economy as a whole is suffering severely? When the faculty hasn’t seen a pay raise that exceeds the rate of inflation in some two decades (I admit this this is largely due to health care costs and not malicious intent)? When we’re already spending oodles of money in a stalling capital campaign for improvements that few current students will experience, fewer desire, and none need — a campaign which has been pushed and pushed and pushed by the current president despite more pressing financial needs? When the head of the university *is* a Catholic priest who has, whatever vows he may not have taken, has at least dedicated himself to the service of Christ, the Church, the archdiocese, the university, and (especially) the students?

    I have to say that, with all due respect to Fr. Dease, who is a friendly fellow and an excellent fundraiser, I find a pay increase under these circumstances fairly offensive.

  5. It actually shocks me that Fr. Dease is earning just over $300 K, he deserves more. If one looks at how much St. Thomas has expanded due to Fr. Dease’s fundraising skills, he deserves more. Minneapolis campus, all the rest buildings, funds for aid for students, the new athletic facility, and money for his scholarship (where most of his pay money is spent) is all due to Fr. Dease. A man who has a heart like Fr. Dease, needs more that what he gets.( ) If one even compares him to all the other ACTC schools, he earns less than some compared to where the school actually stands in ACTC rankings. And to add to that, he doesn’t ask for an increase in pay, he is just granted that, and if he is going to use it for good reasons other than build a manshion, why shouldn’t he be paid even more?

  6. Keep in mind, UST is a university that has more than just an undergraduate college, which is an important distinction as you look at salaries of administrators. UST is a doctoral institution, with many varying graduate programs and a solid and large undergrad population. The Chronicle lists median salaries for college administrators each year ( For UST’s category, my guess is that you’ll almost always find UST administrator salaries at or below the national median. The school does try to keep those costs down just as we would in other areas too.
    To be quite frank, it’s more surpring and “offensive” to me that administrators at undergraduate colleges like Macalester (which despite respected academics, lack graduate programs and are half the size of St. Thomas’ undergrad population) can make more than 1.5 times what our administrators can make.
    In response to other posts here, I do also think that some students lose sight of the fundraising effort for student financial aid within the capital campaign. It’s actually the single biggest chunk of money in the entire campaign ($130 million).
    Moral of the story: The reality is that Fr. Dease should and could be paid more based on what his job entails, but both UST and Dease are doing their fair share to keep costs down and fundraising up.

  7. Isn’t it true that Fr. Dease actually donates a significant amount, if not the majority, of his earnings to student scholarships and other significant charitable works? It is too bad that this article doesn’t seem to fully address what Fr. Dease does for St. Thomas and the community at large.

  8. Sadly, Mr. Weber, the link you provided is behind a subscription paywall.  I don’t suppose you’d be willing to provide a few choice statistics from it?  I do love reading statistics.

    I’m afraid I still don’t see quite why St. Thomas’s status as a doctoral institution should justify a pay increase for its top administrator — particularly when, again, said administrator is a priest.  It seems to me we should take a page out of St. Kates’ book and feed Fr. Dease’s would-be salary directly back into the school, less food and housing costs in the faculty residences next to OSH.  And it remains particularly galling that Fr. Dease got this lovely pay increase while the rest of the faculty — which, if you’ll recall the Big Meeting in Spring ’08, makes 17% less than the average salary at 500 similar institutions of higher education, and that was before the recession — got a lovely pay freeze followed by a teensy climb later in the year when the recession loosened its grip a bit.

    As for Opening Doors, I’m all for the $130 mil that is going to students.  It’s the $187 mil going to renovation and new construction that troubles me.  (Incidentally, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t, 187 > 130?  So in what sense is student aid the “biggest chunk” of the campaign?)  The $96 mil going to a litany of new and expanded hiring and program-offering initiatives instead of being spent on our undervalued faculty and lowering our rapidly-growing tuition costs doesn’t tickle me, either.  (I mean, my word, do we really need three *million* dollars spent into the Core Curriculum Committee just to lengthen the school-sponsored torture that is Orientation & Registration throughout the entire freshman year?  And, as long as we’re giving the Center for Ethical Business Cultures another $5 million to develop non-specific “cutting-edge programs”, could we also announce a new plan to pay every faculty member $100,000 every time they put together a new syllabus?)  I certainly love the new Sitzmann Hall, but I can’t shake the belief that that money ($5 mil) could have been much better spent on the heart of the insitution — the teachers and the students.  That’s true of a lot of these programs — sure, they’re good ideas and should be funded in a perfect world, but not at the cost of our faculty and student bodies.

    You’re up there in Admissions, Mr. Weber, so you are much closer to the heart of these discussions than I am.  You spend a lot more of your day thinking about these things, and you are keenly aware of how things that look cheap and simple on the outside can turn out to be absurdly expensive when you actually start taking them apart.  What’s more, I’m sure you have nothing but the best intentions towards the university and especially toward the students you work so hard to admit.  So perhaps you’re quite right and I’m quite wrong about this whole thing, from A to Z.  But, down here among the students, there’s a strong perception that the spending priorities of the university’s administration fall somewhere between “bizarre” and “outrageous.”  And everything I read — this troubling salary increase for the president at the expense of everybody else being only the latest — leads me to agree with them.

  9. Well stated James, I especially like the add-in that Dease is, in fact, a Priest. Its not as if he’s supporting a family of 4, or is in dire need of that extra cash; the University is treating him as if he’s a CEO of a Fortune 500 company…

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