College president pay remains imposing

mrvasquez@MiamiHerald.comMay 14, 2013 

Florida public colleges and universities spent the past few years absorbing huge cuts in state funding.

To balance the books, schools repeatedly raised tuition, and in some cases, reduced class offerings or even postponed maintenance projects.

But one budget line item hasn't taken much of a hit, and at times has even grown: college presidents' salaries.

A pair of reports issued this week, one from The Chronicle of Higher Education and one from Florida's Office of the Chief Inspector General, highlight how high six-figure salaries, along with hefty bonuses, car allowances and other perks, continue to be the norm in American higher education.

University of Florida President Bernie Machen earned $834,562 in the 2012 fiscal year, according to the Chronicle's annual executive compensation analysis. That number was enough to make Machen the nation's ninth-highest-paid public university president.

On campus, he falls far behind UF men's basketball coach Billy Donovan, whose salary is $3.3 million, according to Forbes.

Machen's compensation was roughly 55 percent higher than what he made the previous year when he earned $539,007.

Two spots further down the list at No. 11 in the United States, is former Florida A&M University President James Ammons, who earned $781,024 during a tumultuous year in which he ultimately resigned. FAMU had suffered multiple scandals, including the hazing death of a student band member, during Ammons' tenure.

Machen and Ammons benefited from one-time lump sums: Machen took home $300,000 in bonus pay, while Ammons received $341,250 in severance pay. UF officials did not immediately provide an explanation for Machen's bonus, but he has received similar "performance" bonuses in the past. In 2008, Machen donated his bonus to a state scholarship program.

Not all money paid to college presidents comes from taxpayers. In Florida, the taxpayer-funded amount, by law, cannot exceed $225,000, with university foundations or other private sources chipping in the rest.

Among South Florida schools, Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg ranked 50th nationally with his $594,137 compensation package, which included $496,612 in base pay.

Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón earns a bit more -- $630,157 -- according to a Florida Office of the Chief Inspector General report released Monday. The report, which focused exclusively on community college presidents, was requested last year by Gov. Rick Scott after a Jacksonville college agreed to a controversial $1.2 million severance package for its outgoing president.

Among community college presidents, Padrón's total compensation is easily the highest (Broward College President J. David Armstrong earns $454,900), although MDC's student enrollment of more than 174,000 is also significantly larger than any other Florida school. Padrón's pay package includes a $11,451 annual car allowance and a $48,000 housing allowance.

When it comes to severance pay, the inspector general found Padrón's contract, along with those of five other college presidents, contained post-employment perks that could cause the college to exceed the state employee cap of 20 weeks severance.

In Padrón's case, the contract calls for the president's leased car to be paid off and transferred to him "free and clear," and MDC must also provide Padrón "lifetime health insurance" and "a one-year sabbatical with full pay and benefits."

In an e-mail sent last week to the inspector general's office, MDC Board of Trustees Chairwoman Helen Aguirre Ferré wrote that the board, in response to the state's review, has "approved all appropriate changes to ensure that the president's current and future contracts are in compliance" with the 20-week severance limit. A MDC spokesman declined to comment on the matter Monday.

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