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Chatham University president among 10 top-paid at U.S. private colleges

| Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, 6:03 p.m.

Esther Barazzone, the longtime president of Chatham University, catapulted onto the list of the 10 highest-paid private college and university presidents in the United States in 2011 with a total compensation package of $1.8 million.

Chatham trustees say Barazzone, 67, belongs in that rare company. But they said the total compensation cited in a new Chronicle of Higher Education survey — although eye-catching — is misleading.

A deferred retirement package set aside every year since 2006 and then reported in total on tax documents in 2011 when it matured boosted Barazzone's compensation by about $1.2 million, to $1.8 million.

She did not return a request for comment.

“I think if you measure people by performance, (Barazzone) warrants that. But nevertheless, we're a small college, and we're not paying her at that level,” said Murray Rust, who chairs the board of trustees at the Squirrel Hill university of about 2,200 students.

The survey, which cites federal tax documents, covered 500 private colleges with the largest endowments in 2011, the most recent data available. The top 10 presidents' total compensation ranged from $1.6 million to $3.3 million.

Total compensation typically included a base salary, retirement or deferred compensation, bonuses, benefits and housing. Chronicle researchers found the median total compensation for all the leaders the survey covered was $410,523 in 2011, or 3.2 percent more than in 2010.

Three presidents in addition to Barazzone made the top 10 by virtue of multiyear deferred compensation packages that vested in 2011. Jack Stripling of the Chronicle of Higher Education said such plans seem common among university presidents.

Chatham officials said they gave Barrazone the deferred compensation package in 2006 because before 2004 the school did not have the money for competitive executive packages. If she left before 2011, she would have forfeited the package.

“There are some tax benefits to deferring pay, because a president can invest the money tax-free up until the point of the payout,” Stripling said. He added that the retention component of deferred benefits such as the one accorded to Barazzone have led people to refer to them as “golden handcuffs.”

Rust said Chatham trustees wanted to ensure the university could retain Barazzone, who was hired in 1992 and oversaw the school's transformation from a financially ailing women's college with an enrollment of about 500 students to a stable university with 25 graduate programs and three campuses, including one under construction in Richland that it says will be the nation's first fully sustainable university campus.

Trustee G. Nicholas Beckwith III has served on the board for three decades and on the search committee that hired Barazzone. He called her “a godsend.”

“It's practically unheard of for a college or university president to stay anywhere for a period of decades,” Beckwith said.

Barazzone's contract runs through 2015.

Former Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon, who led a university five times the size of Chatham, collected a total compensation package of $946,095 in 2011, a year before he left office.

The third-highest paycheck for a Pittsburgh private university president in 2011 went to Duquesne University President Charles J. Dougherty, who collected total compensation of $678,893.

University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg's 2011 compensation package was reported at $628.880 in a separate survey of public college presidents published this year.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. she can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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