Ken Hare In Depth: Tuition zooms, bonuses roll in for state college presidents

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - At a time when rising costs have many students struggling toattend Alabama's flagship universities, the University of Alabama and AuburnUniversity are handing out millions of dollars in bonuses to their topadministrators.

There is something unseemly about the state's public collegepresidents -- already well paid when compared with their peers atstate-supported universities around the nation -- getting bonuses while thecosts of attending their institutions are far outpacing the rate of inflation.

More than a year ago, I wrote a column about how handsomely thepresidents of some of Alabama's taxpayer-supported public colleges were paid.At that time, the presidents of Alabama's largest public universities were allin the top 38 in pay out of 199 college presidents in similar institutionsaround the nation.  (Seebelow for more up-to-date rankings.)

And this was in Alabama, a state that ranks 46th in per capitaincome.

Still, I also noted in that column that there did not seem to bemuch public concern -- and certainly no public outcry -- over those relativelyhigh compensation packages.

But I did predict that as tuition and other costs skyrocketed,that lack of controversy over presidential pay "may not last."

The backlash may have started. This week, reported that "topexecutives for the University of Alabama System and Auburn University havereceived more than $3.5 million in bonuses over the past five years whilestudent tuition has increased about 40 percent."

According to the website, Auburn President Jay Gogue got a bonusof $1.8 million in 2012 for fulfilling his initial five-year contract.

Especially troubling is a practice in the University of AlabamaSystem where former presidents continue to be paid after they leave office.According to, the UA System spent more than $1 million in 2012-13 to pay"retreating" executives who had recently left office.

That is on top of the six-figure bonuses the UA System pays itschancellor and the presidents of the three UA campuses each fall.

It's difficult to find data to put the compensation packages ofcollege presidents into perspective, considering the number of public collegesand systems in the nation and the high turnover rate among college presidents.Bonuses and deferred compensation also cloud the picture, since they can makefor wide swings in compensation from year to year.

Perhaps the best snapshot of the presidential pay picture isprovided by the Chronicle of Higher Education's regular survey of presidentialsalaries, the most recent of which covered the 2013 fiscal  year.

The Chronicle survey covers only the chancellors of universitysystems and the presidents of public, four-year research universities --generally the largest in the nation. That included 255 positions.

Six Alabama public institutions were included in the survey -- theUniversity of Alabama System, the University of Alabama Birmingham, theUniversity of Alabama Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama Huntsville, AuburnUniversity and the University of South Alabama.

However, because of turnover during the year, eight top Alabamaadministrators were represented in the survey.

According to the Chronicle survey, in fiscal 2013:

-- The University of Alabama System  paid Chancellor RobertWitt $725,000, ranking him 25th among the 255 top administrators in the survey.

-- The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa paid President Judy Bonner$655,000, ranking her 40th.

-- The University of Alabama Birmingham paid Interim PresidentRichard Marchase $330,000 for a partial year. UAB also paid incoming PresidentRay. L. Watts $853,464, ranking him 11th in the survey even though it was for apartial year.

-- The University of Alabama Huntsville paid President RobertAltenkirch $545,000, ranking him 74th out of 255 positions covered by thesurvey.

-- Auburn University paid President Jay Gogue $733,850, rankinghim 22nd among the 255 positions covered by the survey.

-- The University of South Alabama paid retiring President GordonMoulton $1.07 million, ranking him eighth among the 255 top administrators.Moulton died soon after leaving office. USA also paid Acting President John W.Smith $310,572 in fiscal 2013.

Again, because of bonuses and turnover, this one-year snapshot canbe misleading. But it does give a glimpse of the compensation picture forAlabama's public universities.

The Chronicle survey also does not cover those "retreating"presidents in the UA System.  For instance, former President CarolGarrison of UAB left office in August 2012. But according to, shecontinued to be paid, receiving more than $500,000 in 2013 plus an additional$130,000 bonus for the year which was paid in a lump sum. According to thewebsite, she continued to be paid $25,000 a month in 2014.

Apparently, presidential pay at the public UA system is the giftthat keeps on giving -- and giving.

All of these bonuses and pay for already departed presidents attaxpayer-supported institutions would be questionable in and of themselves. Butcontrast them to what is happening with tuition and fees at these institutions.

From the 2008-2009 academic year through the 2013-2014 academicyear, undergraduate tuition and required fees for an Alabama resident rose 47percent at the University of Alabama. At UAB and UAH they rose 54 percent. AtAuburn, it was 47 percent. At USA, it was 50 percent.  That's about fourtimes the overall rate of inflation during that span.

If this pattern continues, pretty soon only the rich will be ableto attend Alabama's flagship universities. That might be OK for a privatecollege, but for a public college that is supported by taxpayers that would bedecidedly not OK.

Of course, there is a lot more contributing to the increase in thecost of a college education than executive compensation. But such compensationis important symbolically.

So if university trustees truly want to address those costs thatare pushing up tuition, one place to start is at the top.


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

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