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