Plutocrats on Campus: College Presidents Enjoy More Perks, Privileges and Pay Than They Deserve

Article excerpt

Want a cushy job that will make you rich? Become a college president.

And don't worry if it's not a brandname school. Even at second- and third-tier colleges, presidential enrichment programs thrive. At Lafayette, the total compensation in 2003-2004 for the president was $603,000. At Grinnell, $508,000. At Kalamazoo, $542,000. At Bentley, $505,000. Is it right that college presidents are getting paychecks larger than the president of the United States, who gets $400,000 a year? And salaries well above cabinet secretaries at $180,000?

In 1995, only four college presidents had salaries and benefits worth $500,000 or more. Now it's 50, with five topping $1 million. In their ivied fiefdoms, these potentates often get free housing and cars, plus housemaids and drivers. They can pick up pocket change of $10,000 or $20,000 by serving on corporate boards eager to hear wise words from academia.

As detailed by The Chronicle of Higher Education last month, the big men on campus are now the best-paid men--or women--on campus.

For parents who've been wondering why tuitions keep rising five or six percent a year, and for puzzled students who routinely graduate owing tens of thousands of dollars, and for professors told to be content with $50,000 a year, and for workers who clean the toilets, cook the food and trim the ivy, now they know. Their leaders are raking it in.

Just how fevered the buckraking has become was on display this past fall at American University in Washington. In addition to a pay package of $814,000, President Benjamin Ladner spent university money on catered parties for his family and friends, a personal gourmet chef whom he sent to Europe for "personal development" seminars, salaries for gardeners and drivers, $40 bottles of wine, club dues. The tab for three years of this high living came to more than $500,000.

As a longtime adjunct at American University, I've been aware that large numbers of my students either hold low-paying jobs or are resigned to paying off loans well into their 40s. It was largely student power, fueled by outrage at how their president was living it up, that forced the school's board of trustees to oust Dr. Ladner a few weeks ago. But not without a $950,000 payment and $2.75 million in retirement benefits, which further enraged the students.

Coming to their rescue, perhaps, is Sen. Charles Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The Iowa Republican and hog farmer, whose nose for piggishness regularly leads him to expose Pentagon waste and fraud, has announced an investigation into the trough where Dr. …