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College leaders earn less than peers

Deseret Morning News graphic

At approximately $190,000 a year, Westminster College President Michael Bassis is far behind a few presidents earning more than $1 million at other private colleges and universities around the country.

The Chronicle of Higher Education's annual look at what college and university presidents earn also turned up one yearly compensation package at a private institution worth more than $5 million. The Chronicle's report used 2003-04 data, the most recent available for private schools.

Four other private school bosses earned more than $1 million a year, according to the Chronicle.

"You don't have to worry about us being in that ballpark," said Brigham Young University spokeswoman Carri Jenkins.

Yet Jenkins wouldn't even approximate the annual salary for Cecil O. Samuelson, who is in his third year as president of BYU, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Bassis is in his fourth year at Westminster. His total annual compensation package of more than $243,000, which includes his $190,000 salary, is determined by the school's Board of Trustees.

"I think (the board) thinks that's a fair salary," said Stephen Morgan, Westminster executive vice president.

The board, he added, bases the salary for Westminster's president on what similar schools pay.

"I do think college presidents — good ones — are in great demand," Morgan said. "They require unique skills to manage a complex enterprise."

The Chronicle's annual survey also indicated more and more presidents at both private and public institutions earn more than $500,000.

Most presidents here also get use of a car and a place to live for free. If they're president for at least seven years, another benefit in Utah is that they have a guaranteed job or "Regents Professorship" in a faculty position. Cecelia Foxley, who served 10 years as state commissioner of higher education, landed an adjunct post at the University of Utah, where she began teaching in January.

Some presidents also earn more by being on various boards or from extra compensation through private sources. At the University of Utah, for example, more than $150,000 is added to the president's pay in deferred income, insurance and other benefits.

But in Utah, only one publicly funded president, Salt Lake Community College's Cynthia Bioteau, is making more than the average of her peers, according to the most recent Utah System of Higher Education figures.

"I think the presidents generally feel they're well-paid, well-compensated," said Rich Kendell, Utah commissioner of Higher Education.

The pressure for more money, Kendell added, isn't coming from sitting presidents.

After all, presidents at all 10 of Utah's public colleges and universities — and Kendell — received approval for pay increases last June. Regents will be asking the 2006 Legislature that faculty, staff, including presidents, receive a 5 percent compensation increase.

The problem arises, Kendell said, when there is a search for a new president. Comparatively lower pay — like $142,800 — was cited as one reason it took almost two years to find a new SLCC chief.

The State Board of Regents, which oversees public higher education here — and handpicks presidents — has repeatedly said in recent years that below-average salaries have made searching for new presidents more difficult. Utah's public system has four newer presidents and a search is ongoing for a new Utah College of Applied Technology president.

"You're trying to attract a person with a really good reputation," Kendell said. "Some are willing to come for less just because they think the opportunity is a good one."