Graham Spanier, who resigned Penn State University's presidency amid a scandal and now faces criminal charges, achieved an ironic distinction as he relinquished the job he held for 16 years, a new survey says.
He received more income than any other public university president in America in 2011-12, according to a just-released survey of presidential pay by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Mr. Spanier earned $2.9 million in total compensation for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, according to the survey, which immediately drew fire from Penn State for what the university said was a distortion of the former president's place among his peers. Eighty-eight percent of what Mr. Spanier made that year was not salary but rather deferred compensation, severance and retirement pay.
Mr. Spanier resigned the presidency in November 2011 by mutual agreement with school trustees, five days after the arrest of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on child sex abuse charges sparked outrage over the school's failure for nearly a decade to alert law enforcement to at least one alleged campus assault.
Mr. Spanier remains a tenured professor but was put on paid administrative leave Nov. 1, the same day he became the third university administrator charged criminally in an alleged cover-up of Sandusky's crimes.
The former president maintains he is innocent.
Jack Stripling, a senior reporter with The Chronicle who participated in the survey's preparation, said Mr. Spanier's top rank shows how salary often says less about what college presidents make than do inducements in the form of deferred pay aimed at keeping them from leaving office. The executives often receive those large lump sum payouts when they eventually step down.
"It's an interesting commentary on the fact that often a president's most lucrative year is his last, no matter how good or bad that year was," Mr. Stripling said.
It's common for a school whose departing president tops the yearly Chronicle pay ranking to say severance and other one-time payouts distort the executive's typical earnings. Penn State did so -- pointedly.
"The Chronicle's survey figures include Dr. Spanier's severance package -- which obviously skews the results," spokeswoman Lisa Powers said. "By including deferred compensation Spanier earned over his 16 years as president, which was part of a separation agreement, the Chronicle obviously is not comparing 'apples to apples' with the annual salaries of other presidents."
Mr. Stripling said the one-time payments were included because IRS tax rules say they count as part of that year's income. Other departing presidents were treated no differently in past surveys, he said.
It's not the first time Mr. Spanier ranked highly among peers. The $800,000 it cost Penn State to employ him was fifth highest in The Chronicle's 2009-10 survey.
The survey of 191 public universities nationwide included research campuses and affiliated systems of at least 10,000 students and schools with smaller enrollments if they were state flagship institutions. The 212 leaders included is greater than the number of universities because some presidencies ended or began during the survey year.
Four public university leaders, including Mr. Spanier, topped $1 million in total earnings. That number, while up from three the previous year, is dwarfed by the 35 private university presidents earning at that level, according to a Chronicle survey of those institutions released in December.
Still, the gains among public campus leaders are noticeable. Until 2007-08, not one earned more than $1 million. "The rich are certainly getting richer," Mr. Stripling said.
Mr. Spanier's total earnings of $2,906,721 included a partial year's salary of $350,959. The next highest in total earnings nationally was Auburn University's Jay Gogue, with total compensation of $2,542,865, including $482,070 in base pay.
Next came Ohio State University's E. Gordon Gee, at $1,899,420; George Mason University's former president Alan Merten, at $1,869,369; and Jo Ann Gora at Ball State University, who made $984,647.
Rounding out the 10 highest in total compensation were Mary Sue Coleman, University of Michigan system, $918,783; Charles Steger, Virginia Tech, $857,749; Mark Yudof, University of California system, $847,149; Bernard Machen, University of Florida, $834,562; and Francisco Cigarroa, University of Texas system, $815,833.
The Chronicle found that the median presidential pay on public campuses grew by 4.7 percent to $441,392, meaning half earned more and half earned less. Median base salary of $373,800 grew at a slower rate -- 2 percent from the previous year.
The survey included six Pennsylvania university leaders. After Mr. Spanier, the next highest paid in the commonwealth was Temple University's Ann Weaver Hart, with $688,073 in total compensation, including $580,000 in base pay.
Others were University of Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg, total compensation of $628,880, including $561,500 in base pay; current Penn State president Rodney Erickson, partial year compensation of $549,364, including $515,000 in base pay; John Cavanaugh, former chancellor of the State System of Higher Education, which oversees Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities, total compensation of $351,427, including $327,500 in base pay; and Indiana University of Pennsylvania president David Werner, total compensation of $276,279, including $253,248 in base pay.
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Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG. First Published May 12, 2013 10:00 PM