In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the nation's highest paid public university president was Graham B. Spanier, the president of Pennsylvania State University, who was forced out in November 2011 over his handling of a child sex abuse scandal involving a football coach.
According to the annual compensation report by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mr. Spanier was paid $2.9 million in 2011-12, including $1.2 million in severance pay and $1.2 million in deferred compensation.
"The fact that Graham Spanier turns out to be the highest paid president in the country says something about the nature of compensation packages for people who leave under a cloud," said Jack Stripling, the Chronicle reporter who worked on the survey. "Severance agreements are often very lucrative."
Three other public university presidents also had compensation topping $1 million: Jay Gogue of Auburn University, at $2,542,865; E. Gordon Gee of Ohio State University, at $1,899,420; and Alan G. Merten of George Mason University, at $1,869,369. Mr. Merten retired from George Mason last June after 16 years as president.
Mr. Gee, who in 2007 became the first public university president to earn more than $1 million, had a base salary last year of $830,439, the highest among the 212 chief executives included in the Chronicle report. He is known for prodigious fund-raising energy, which has brought the university more than $1.6 billion since he took the post, and for the lavish lifestyle his job supports, including a rent-free mansion with an elevator, a pool and a tennis court and flights on private jets.
Mr. Stripling said there had been a sea change in the last few years, with the rich getting richer and some pay packages exceeding not just $1 million, but $2 million. Deferred compensation agreements can increase pay drastically, as was the case with Mr. Gogue, whose pay went from $720,000 to $2.5 million in a single year when he completed a five-year contract.
But the biggest growth last year, Mr. Stripling said, was in the $600,000 to $700,000 range, a category that included 28 chief executives, up from only 13 the previous year.
According to the Chronicle report, the median total compensation for the presidents of public research universities was $441,392, up 4.7 percent from the previous year's $421,395. The median base salary, $373,800, was up 2 percent from $366,519 the previous year.
Rounding out the top 10 earners were Jo Ann M. Gora of Ball State University ($984,647); Mary Sue Coleman of the University of Michigan system ($918,783); Charles W. Steger of Virginia Tech ($857,749); Mark G. Yudof of the University of California system ($847,149); Bernard J. Machen of the University of Florida ($834,562); and Francisco G. Cigarroa of the University of Texas system ($815,833).education
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.