Hiring of new college presidents sparks debate about their pay

Kari Andren
| Friday, April 6, 2012

HARRISBURG -- The appointment of presidents at Slippery Rock and East Stroudsburg universities started a debate on Thursday over whether new state university presidents are paid too much.

Cheryl Joy Norton, a senior fellow with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Washington, was named president of Slippery Rock University by the board of governors of the State System of Higher Education.

Norton succeeds Robert Smith, who retired as president in February. Her appointment is effective on June 4.

The board named Marcia Welsh, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Towson University, as president of East Stroudsburg University, northeast of Allentown.

Yesterday's appointments were the third and fourth presidents named to universities in the 14-school system since December. Michael Driscoll was named president of Indiana University of Pennsylvania in January.

Board members voted 11-3 with one abstention to approve the presidents, but the salaries drew criticism from Gov. Tom Corbett's administration and board member Robert Taylor, a member of Slippery Rock's Council of Trustees and CEO of Cameron Companies.

Norton's annual salary will be $225,000, a 6-percent increase over her predecessor's, while Welsh's $230,000 salary will be a 13-percent increase over former East Stroudsburg President Robert Dillman.

Driscoll will earn $275,000, the highest in the state system, to lead IUP, which enrolls more than 15,000 students, almost twice as many as Slippery Rock.

Board members voting no were Taylor, state Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis and Jennifer Brandstetter, a designee for Corbett. Ronald Henry, chair of the board of governors' audit committee, abstained.

"(Corbett) is concerned about the additional cost associated with those positions," Brandstetter said. "I just wanted to mention for the record I will be a 'no' vote for the costs ... not because of the qualifications of the candidates."

Tim Eller, spokesman for Tomalis, said the secretary didn't have a particular dollar figure in mind as a more appropriate compensation.

"In the economic times we're in, all entities, whether it's K-12 or higher education ... needs to be cognizant of the fact that taxpayers pay the bills and spending should be in line with what's affordable."

Taylor said he feels "hypocritical" going to state lawmakers to ask them to restore some of Corbett's proposed 20 percent funding cut to the state system while paying incoming presidents more than their predecessors.

"I'm also concerned about the optics this provides to the sitting presidents ... in that we haven't really provided any raises for them," Taylor said. "So we're going to give a raise to four people who haven't proven themselves at all, have no track record with us and with the system while we ignore nine of the 14 presidents who have a very proven record?"

Marie Conley, chair of the board of governors' human resources committee, said state university presidents are paid 20 percent less than the national average for public, state schools.

"In order to attract the best possible candidate, and frankly retain some of the tremendously talented leaders we have here, we believe the compensation levels are just and truly a strong and sound ... return of taxpayer dollars," Conley said.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, which annually surveys executive pay at public universities with more than 10,000 students, showed East Tennessee State University paid its president a base salary of $258,176 to oversee the 15,000-student school for 2009-10.

Presidents at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the State University of New York at Albany made $219,366 (overseeing 13,000 students) and $280,000 (overseeing 17,500 students), respectively.

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