Trustees | Costs

At Penn State, Eric Barron’s pay will place him among the highest-paid college presidents

HARRISBURG PATRIOT-NEWS   |  February 17, 2014 by Ann Orso

As tuition at Penn State steadily rises and the university continues to ask the state for further support in the way of appropriations, the school has simultaneously increased the compensation of one of its highest-paid employees.

Eric J. Barron, who was named Penn State’s 18th president during a special Board of Trustees meeting Monday in State College, will be among one of the highest-paid university presidents in the nation after his salary nearly doubles once he starts his term at Penn State in May.

The Board of Trustee’s Committee on Compensation approved an $800,000 base salary for Barron, a base that will be reviewed annually at the end of each year throughout his five-year contract. That base salary is nearly double what he made at Florida State as its president. In addition to the base salary at Penn State, Barron will make a one-time $200,000 “transitional payment” once he takes office this year.

On top of that, Barron stands to earn $800,000 in retention payments over five years, as well as a $1 million bonus after the completion of his five-year term. In total, Barron will make $6 million over five years, not including housing, pension or other benefits.

That pay is significantly higher than that of his predecessor Rodney Erickson, who earned $515,000 in base salary, according to his contract posted on Penn State’s Progress website. In December 2012, that pay was bumped to a $600,000 base. Erickson, who had previously announced that he would retire in June, took over as leader after former President Graham Spanier was ousted by the board amid the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Officials said Barron’s compensation was determined after studying those of peer institutions of similar size and scope. When compared to the presidential peer group that was reviewed, Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said Barron’s compensation is “competitive and reasonable.”

Spanier was widely noted as the university president who made the most in compensation in the 2011-12 fiscal year nationwide, despite his base salary being $350,959 for the five months he served as president in the 2011-12 academic year. The Chronicle of Higher Education, which annually rates the highest-paid presidents in academia, wrote that Spanier’s total compensation was $2,906,721—mostly made up of severance payments and deferred compensation after he was fired.

A Penn State spokeswoman told PennLive after the report was released that The Chronicle skewed its results when it named Spanier the highest-paid president among public universities.

“The publication mixes those figures freely, providing an inaccurate and lopsided annual comparison with other presidential salaries listed,” Lisa Powers said in an email.

The Chronicle also reported the median base salary among public university presidents was $441,392 in the 2011-12 fiscal year. Following Barron’s appointment today, Mbryanr commented that they were curious as to how the newest president’s compensation compares with other presidents at similar state-related universities.

Mbryanr wrote: I wonder how the compensation offer being extended to Dr. Barron compares to the leaders of other large state-affiliated research institutions. Frankly it seems a bit high to me. I’m all for paying highly qualified professionals what they are worth, but in the past 15 years (since I was a student there) PSU has slipped out of reach for many working class Pennsylvanians in terms of affordability. Student loan burdens carried by current graduates are untenable, and it’s not just because of dwindling state appropriations, many experts in the field have pointed to bloated over-compensated administrative structures as a key cost driver. I’m not sure that any “public” university president compensation package should include million dollar bonuses.

Among Pennsylvania institutions of similar stature, Barron will be the highest paid. Pitt’s outgoing chancellor Mark Nordenberg will make $597,500 in base pay in his last year as university president. Fellow state-related school Temple hired a new university president in August 2012. That president, Neil Theobald, makes $450,000 in base pay.

Barron’s base pay is coincidentally the same as Ohio State’s recent hire at president. Michael Drake, who was appointed in January, will also make $800,000 in annual base pay in addition to $200,000 a year in deferred compensation.

While Barron’s salary is high compared to similar institutions across the state, leaders at Penn State seem to believe the Florida State head is worth it.

“In Eric Barron, we have found a president who is energetic, innovative and dedicated to maximizing the potential of our great institution,” board chairman Keith Masser said. “Dr. Barron has a track record as an accomplished educator, highly respected researcher, an effective administrator and an internationally recognized scholar.”

Michael B. Poliakoff, the vice president of policy at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said in a prepared statement that Barron’s salary is too high, especially during a time when tuition prices are out of hand for some.

“Though the search process was at times clumsy, and the president’s salary unconscionably high at a time of rising tuition prices, Penn State has chosen a leader with a proven commitment to cost-effectiveness and high academic standards,” Poliakoff said.


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