Former UM system president now among nation's highest paid

President Gary Forsee's average is below the median.
Amy Oslica / Graphic Designer

The former president of the UM system is now among the 10 highest paid public university presidents in the country, according to a November report on executive compensation put out by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Elson Floyd, who in 2007 stepped down from his leadership position at UM to become the president of Washington State University, told the Seattle Times he will give himself a $100,000 pay cut starting Jan. 1 in light of recent hard times in the state's economy. The cut will lower his pay from $725,000 to $625,000.

Fran Forgette, chairman of the Washington State University Board of Regents, said the regents knew Floyd was being contacted by other universities like Floyd's alma mater, the University of North Carolina. Forgette said the board had decided to give the raise after looking at the salaries of other West Coast universities and seeing that others were paid higher.

"We were concerned with retaining his service and have him finish the things he is working on," Forgette said. "We thought we ought to pay up a bit instead of answering questions about why we weren't able to keep him."

Floyd denied himself pay raises several times while presiding over the UM system. Including deferred payments, Floyd had been making $436,000 at UM when he left for Washington State.

The highest paid university president in the country was David Sargent of Suffolk University, a private college in Boston. The highest paid public university president was Ohio State University's E. Gordon Gee, whose compensation package was raised last month to $1.3 million. Floyd had the sixth-highest salary among public university presidents in the survey.

The report said current UM system President Gary Forsee makes about $531,920 with a base salary of about $400,000 and more than $100,000 in performance bonuses. 

Tony Luetkemeyer, student representative to the UM system Board of Curators, said any discussions about increasing the president's salary to stay competitive with schools like Washington State are confidential because they relate to a personnel issue discussed in closed session. 

"All I can say is that we're aware of the situation," Luetkemeyer said. 

Compensation packages at public research universities are actually growing faster than those at private institutions, the report found. Median pay for public university presidents increased 7.6 percent to $427,400 and had risen 36 percent over the last five years, compared to 19 percent at private universities. Even so, the figure is $100,000 less than the median private salary, which the report said did not change significantly.

Paul Fain, the author of the report for the Chronicle, said the increases, especially over the last five years, could raise concerns among college students and families struggling to pay rising tuition costs to cover growing school budgets.

"It's a drop in the bucket in terms of their overall budget," Fain said. "But symbolically, it's big for these schools because they are stretched thin and tuition is what they lean on to close the gap."

Fain cautioned that the data, gathered in surveys of public colleges in late 2007 and early 2008, may have changed in light of the recent economic slowdown as state and university budgets are squeezed to the point of freezing the hiring of other faculty due to a lack of funds.

"A lot of the compensation increases and raises were put into effect before the economy turned down," Fain said. "I think if we were to look at this now, we would see people turning down or giving back raises."

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