Ivy League Presidents Are Starting to Get Paid Like Corporate Executives

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Columbia University President Lee Bollinger
Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Ivy League presidential pay is looking more like the big leagues.

Columbia University paid President Lee Bollinger $4.6 million in 2013, a 36 percent increase from the year before, according to a tax filing released Tuesday. Yale University recently revealed it paid former President Richard Levin a bonus of $8.5 million when he retired in 2013 after 20 years.

Presidential pay at elite universities is increasingly resembling that of corporate America, with performance bonuses and exit packages. While colleges say the rewards reflect the complexity of running multi-billion-dollar organizations, professors, alumni and others have questioned whether it is appropriate for nonprofits.

“There is increased scrutiny of compensation in higher education from the media, donors, the IRS and others,” said Alexander Yaffe, a compensation consultant at Yaffe & Co. in Towson, Maryland.

Bollinger’s compensation consists of a base salary of $1.17 million, a bonus of $942,600, as well as benefits and perks such as campus housing and a car and driver for university business. Also in the mix was $1.26 million of previously disclosed compensation dating back to 2002, so the total reported to the Internal Revenue Service reflects some double counting, common for long-serving presidents, the university said.

Exit Bonus

Levin’s exit bonus was in addition to his annual compensation of $1.14 million. In 2004, Yale agreed to pay Levin a retention bonus if he stayed another 10 years.

We “regarded it as vital to retain his leadership for Yale for the long term,” John Pepper, the former chief executive officer at Procter & Gamble Co. who helped lead Yale’s governing board at the time the bonus was awarded, said in an e-mail. “The transformation of Yale during his two decades shows we were right to do so.”

Yale wasn’t the only Ivy institution paying a former leader, according to tax filings. Brown paid $686,483 in 2013 to Ruth Simmons, the president emeritus who resigned in 2012 after more than a decade at the helm. Dartmouth College paid former president James Wright $316,866, reflecting compensation as a faculty member as well as accrued vacation, said Justin Anderson, a college spokesman. Wright resigned in 2009.

Mark Nickel, a Brown spokesman, had no immediate comment.

A handful of Ivy League schools changed leaders midyear in 2013: Princeton University’s Christopher Eisgruber, who took office July 2013, was paid $762,400; Yale’s Peter Salovey, who started at the same time, got $801,020. Dartmouth’s Philip Hanlon, installed June 2013, was paid $695,568.

Anderson said Hanlon’s pay included a $100,000 signing bonus, housing benefits and consulting fees prior to his starting.

Harvard University, the world’s richest university, paid President Drew Faust a total of $1.1 million in 2013, including $779,283 in base pay, as well as the value of housing and other benefits. That was a 6 percent increase from the year before.

“It’s the elite being elite,” said Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus of George Washington University who has worked as a compensation consultant. “We’re importing aspects of the corporate culture to the academy that weren’t there in the old days.”

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