Private colleges pay fines rather than reveal presidents' salaries

November 11, 1994

Salaries of college presidents at public colleges and universities are publicly available in the United States, but private institutions can get away with being more secretive.

That may change, however, with annual publication of the pay of top people at private universities in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

This year's survey shows John Silber, the controversial president of Boston University, again at the top of the league table. He earned $776,963, including benefits, in 1992/93.

Mr Silber is lucky to have such an appreciative employer. Boston University gave him a $300,000 bonus for "his performance and leadership during his 23-year tenure".

The survey of 420 private colleges is conducted annually by The Chronicle and is based on tax forms which are required to be filed by all private tax-exempt institutions with the Internal Revenue Service.

Universities are supposed to list the pay and benefits of the chief executive and the five highest-paid employees. They are also supposed to make these tax forms available for public inspection. Most, but not all, obey the spirit and letter of the law.

Adelphi University, in New York, obeys the law in that it files a form and opens it to inspection. But where it should give details of top officials' pay, it notes, "Further details available upon request".

Is this information available? The answer is "No".

The university prefers to pay an undisclosed fine each year rather than cough up the information for the taxmen.

The result is that academics and students suspect the pay of top people must be astronomical.

Dowling College, on Long Island, New York, sent The Chronicle the tax form, but removed all data on pay.

Several weeks later they thought better of this decision and allowed a reporter to see the pay details.

Dowling's president Victor Meskill made $258,004 in pay and benefits in 1991/92, making him relatively highly paid when judged against other chief executives at comparable institutions. Wake Forest University, in North Carolina, omitted the salary of its president on the grounds that he is not one of its officers.

It is believed that the secrecy is unlikely to continue. Disturbed by scandals about excessive pay for executives of tax-exempt groups, Congress is considering tightening the rules to require disclosure of information.

After Mr Silber the next-best paid president was Sheldon Hackney at the University of Pennsylvania, who was appointed president of the National Endowment of the Humanities by President Clinton.

He received a $325,000 going-away present, which meant he earned $676,574 in pay and benefits in 1992/93.

The survey showed eight chief executives earning more than $400,000, and ten earning more than $300,000. A total of 67 were paid between $200,000 and $300,000, and 62 between $175,000 and $200,000.

The best-paid employees were doctors whose pay was boosted by patient fees. Nine of the ten top earners in the survey were doctors, and the highest paid was Wayne Isom, a professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Cornell who made $1,762,083 in 1992-93.

Six other doctors made more than $1 million.

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