I got to ask my question about Morty’s salary at the Boston area alumni event last week. Unfortunately, I failed to prepare the precise wording of the question ahead of time — operating under the delusion that I can speak coherently off the cuff — and so jumbled things a bit. I tried to ask something along the lines of:

Grant for the moment that Morty’s $400,000 annual package is fair and appropriate. But, certainly at some point, the President’s salary would be too high. How high is too high? At what point should I, as an alum asked to donate time and money, start to worry that the College is paying its President too much? If I am at this same event five years from now, would there be any problem with the President’s salary being $500k or $800k or $2 million?

I got two answers, both of which are true and reasonable but, to my mind, unconvincing.

1) Morty’s pay is similar to that of other presidents at peer institutions. This is true, but just because Amherst overpays its president is no reason for Williams to do the same.

2) Morty has a very complex job. Someone in the business world with similar responsibilities (in terms of number of employees and annual budget) would make much more. Again, this is true but irrelevant. The Governor of Massachusetts, the Secretary of State and the Commanding General of the First Marine Division all have jobs that are at least as complex and, almost certainly, more important than Morty’s, yet they each get paid much less. If Morty wants to make the big bucks, he should go into business.

Again, I stand second to none in my praise for the excellent job that Morty has done and in my expectation that he will continue to be an outstanding president. I know of no one who has written more public words of praise of his performance than I have. But $400,000 is too much. Why should I give charity to an institution that is so wealthy that it can afford such a lavish package?

Of course, Williams does have to pay its President something, just as it needs to pay its professors. But as a non-profit, it must take issues of compensation very seriously. If it were me, I would set assistant professor salaries at national norms, call it $50,000 and have full professors max out at 2 times that, with the presidents salary set at 2 more times that.

Anyone, after Morty, who does not think that being President of Williams is the job of a lifetime, even at $200,000 per year, is probably not the person that you want for the job.

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