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Alabama public college presidents well compensated

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Historically the presidents of Alabama's largest public universities have been well paid in comparison to most of their peers at other public universities around the nation. And when the dust settles after turnover at the top of several Alabama universities, that's not likely to have changed.

Presidential compensation at public universities has been a point of contention in many states as public funding and faculty pay have stalled in the wake of the economic downturn.

But in Alabama, where economic conditions have caused a decline in state funding for public colleges and helped to push up large increases in tuition and fees, the pay of public college presidents has drawn little reaction from taxpayers, despite it being in the news recently.

Recent changes include:

When the new president of the University of Alabama, Guy Bailey, officially took office in early September, it was disclosed that he will get a compensation package worth about $652,000 a year. That includes $535,000 in base pay, an "Incentive Increment" of $105,000, and an option of a $12,000 auto supplement or a university vehicle. 

Earlier this year, former UA President Robert Witt moved up to the post of chancellor of the University of Alabama System, where his total compensation will amount to about $717,000 per year. That includes a salary of $600,000, an "Incentive Increment" of $105,000, and an auto supplement of $12,000. 

At Auburn University, President Jay Gogue will receive the same 2 percent merit increase as other university faculty and staff members effective Oct. 1. That will bring his total compensation package to about $744,000. That will include a base salary of $472,800, a vehicle benefit with a taxable worth of $1,682 per month, and deferred compensation of $250,000 per year.

Alabama State University's new president, Dr. Joseph H. Silver Sr., will be paid $325,000 per year, the same as his predecessor. Silver also has the use of the President's Home and is provided use of a state car.

The State Board of Education in September hired former Shelton State Community College President Mark Heinrich as chancellor of the state's two-year college system. He actually will make less than his predecessor, but it's still not chicken feed. Heinrich will get an annual salary of $250,000, plus a $21,000 annual housing allowance. In addition, he will have $5,000 for professional development and use of a state car. His predecessor received $289,900 annually, a $24,000 housing allowance and use of a state car.

It's difficult to find data to put those compensation packages into perspective, considering the number of public colleges and systems in the nation and the high turnover rate among college presidents. Perhaps the best snapshot of the presidential pay picture is provided by the Chronicle of Higher Education's regular survey of presidential salaries, the most recent of which covered the 2010-2011 academic year.

The Chronicle survey covers only the chancellors of university systems and the presidents of public, four-year research universities -- generally the largest in the nation. Of those 199 positions, five Alabama positions were included in the survey -- the top post at the University of Alabama System, the University of Alabama Birmingham, the University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, Auburn University and the University of South Alabama.

In the 2010-2011 academic year covering 199 academic leaders nationally, the five Alabama  positions covered by the survey ranked 12th (Auburn president with compensation of $722,500), 27th (UA System chancellor with compensation of $604,541), a tie for 29th (Alabama Tuscaloosa and Alabama Birmingham presidents with compensation of $592,161), and 38th (the University of South Alabama president's compensation of $570,000).

Compensation rates for four of  those positions have increased  since the survey. A search is under way for a new president at UAB.

But the Chronicle also crunched the compensation numbers in a different way. Since faculty pay has been stagnant at most public universities around the nation, the Chronicle looked at presidential pay vs. the average  pay for a full professor at each institution. In that listing, Auburn's Gogue ranked fourth highest in the nation (5.4 times full professor average pay of $133,000) and South Alabama's V. Gordon Moulton ranked fifth (5.1 times full professor average pay of $112,800).

Despite that high ranking, there has been no public outcry over Gogue's pay. And the chair-elect of the Auburn Faculty Senate, Dr. Larry Crowley, said that the faculty is more than happy with Gogue's leadership.

"Dr. Gogue is the best thing to happen to Auburn since I've been here," said Crowley.  He said Gogue has changed the tenor of the relationship between the faculty and the administration and shown a strong concern for the faculty.

Despite the relative lack of controversy in Alabama over presidential pay compared to other states, there is a potential that ever-increasing presidential salaries will flare up in debates over education funding. Alabama is a relatively poor state, ranking 46th in median household income. Alabama parents also have seen tuition at the state's public college increased far faster than inflation or Alabama incomes for the past decade. And public university funding comes from the same pot as public school funding, which in Alabama is among the lowest in the nation.

Against that background, the relative absence of controversy over the pay of presidents of the state's public universities may not last.  ---

Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site.

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