Here is an eye-opening article on the salaries of college presidents.

A survey of college presidential salaries revealed Monday that the compensation packages given the leaders of four private universities in the 2002 fiscal year topped $800,000.

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual salary report also said that the top officials at 12 public schools are scheduled to earn more than $500,000 in 2003-04.

There’s no discussion of Williams or even schools like Williams. Perhaps it is rude of me, but I wonder what Morty’s salary is. Long time followers of the Williams scene will recall that there was some sort of controversy along these lines during Hank Payne’s term in office. I don’t recall the details, but would be glad to be reminded of them.

If you are a trustee, this is of course a tough topic. On the one hand, you want to be frugal and reasonable. You can’t imagine that paying the President several multiples of what you pay other tenured professors is a good thing. You also probably suspect that the ideal candidate will want and love the job so much that you shouldn’t need to pay her much more than a typical professor’s salary. After all, the military has no trouble finding highly qualified folks to command it’s battalions and battle groups while paying low salaries because the jobs themselves are so amazing and challenging and rewarding.

On the other hand, once you have decided that, say, Morty is the guy for the job, you don’t want money to be an issue. And you certainly don’t want to be a cheapskate and pay your president less than peer colleges pay their presidents. Moreover, because you are probably rich (and certainly hang out with lots of rich people) — you’re a trustee at Williams, after all! — you might have trouble how people make ends meet at professor salaries. You also know that part of the president’s job is to spend a lot of time hobknobbing with rich people, a skill that may come easier if she is rich as well.

Of course, there is a direct parallel between public corporations and their boards setting the salaries for CEO’s and other senior executives and private colleges and their trustees setting the salaries for Presidents and other senior administrators. I don’t have any magic solutions, but I would never get in a bidding war for a potential Williams president. If she didn’t recognize that Williams was a special place and that it is a very cool job to be Williams President — even if you give up the opportunity to make $200,000 more at Some Other College — then I think that this revealed preference would be reason enough to suspect that she wasn’t the right person for the job.

Link courtesy of Invisible Adjunct, a great blog if you’re interested in higher education.

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