CSU presidents’ salaries rank high among ‘peer’ universities

Despite losing a portion of their recent pay raise, the presidents at Connecticut State University’s four campuses still earn salaries that compare favorably with those of chief executives at many similar institutions.

Some university trustees had expressed concern that CSU could lose its competitive edge for attracting top administrators after complying with Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s request last month to rescind an extra salary boost.

However, a survey by The Mirror found that the presidents at CSU’s four campuses have higher base salaries than all but a handful of leaders at 34 colleges and universities that CSU lists as its “peer institutions.”

Three of CSU’s campus presidents receive annual base salaries of $299,460, and a fourth receives $294,460, compared with an average of $245,530 for presidents and chancellors at CSU’s peers.

The salaries of CSU’s top administrators, including presidents, drew increased scrutiny when Rell called a recent round of raises “excessive” and “intolerable,” citing the state’s deepening budget crisis.

University trustees had defended the larger increases as part of a long-term plan to bring top salaries in line with those of other colleges and universities.

The university granted 10 percent salary increases to campus presidents and Chancellor David G. Carter last month but promptly reduced the raises to 5 percent in response to Rell’s criticism. The presidents and Carter were allowed to keep a 5 percent cost-of-living increase, but trustees rescinded an additional raise of about 5 percent that was considered a “pay equity” adjustment, the final phase of increases based on a consultant’s compensation study in 2006.

Salaries for top officials at CSU, including campus presidents, rose sharply in 2007 and 2008 after that study reported that salaries for the university’s senior officials fell “significantly below the market” in comparison to salaries at similar colleges and universities in the Eastern region of the U.S.

Based on a comparison to the schools CSU considers its peers, the current salaries of campus presidents appear to be competitive even in high cost-of-living states.

Of the 34 colleges and universities listed as CSU’s peers, only five reported higher base salaries for their presidents than CSU’s $299,460. The highest was $350,000 for President Cynthia Anderson at Youngstown State University in Ohio. The lowest was $168,674 for President Dorothy Leland at Georgia College and State University.

CSU salary comps

Compared with peer universities in the highest cost-of-living states–mostly in the Northeast and California–all but one of the CSU presidents’ salaries ranked first or second. The exception was Southern Connecticut’s Stanley Battle, who as interim president makes $5,000 less than the others.

Each of CSU’s four campuses identifies its own set of peer institutions. Central Connecticut State University, for example, lists schools such as Montclair State, Southern Illinois University and the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth while Eastern Connecticut State compares itself to Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts and the University of Michigan-Flint among others.

The Mirror’s survey reflects only base salaries and does not include extra pay such as allowances for housing, cars or expense accounts.

Before this year’s cost-of-living increases, pay for CSU’s presidents as well as other non-union administrators was frozen last year along with a pay freeze for unionized state employees, including university faculty and staff.

Similar pay freezes were common on the nation’s college campuses last year as the U.S. economy slumped, according to an annual survey by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR). For the first time in more than 25 years, most of the institutions surveyed gave no salary increases to senior-level administrative staff in 2009, the survey found.

“The economy has definitely had a dramatic impact on the higher education workforce,” CUPA-HR President & CEO Andy Brantley said in a press release accompanying the latest survey results. Most of the higher education workforce did not receive pay increases in 2009 and “many of our colleagues have actually had their salaries decreased due to budget cuts and furloughs,” he said.

In New York, New Jersey and the New England states, the median salary for chief executives in a category that includes the CSU campuses was $280,000 in 2009, the CUPA-HR survey reported. At CSU campuses, presidents last year received an annual salary of $285,200.

The CSU presidents, along with more than 60 other non-union managers, had been scheduled for the final installment of “pay equity” adjustments recommended in the consultant’s compensation study, but Rell objected in light of an economic slump that has resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs statewide. The state is projecting a budget deficit of nearly $3.4 billion for fiscal year 2012.

“We understand the state is in difficult conditions. . . . and this is the right thing to do,” CSU trustee Angelo J. Messina said as the Board of Trustees Executive Committee voted to trim the raises. But, he added, “it does put the institution the four universities a little bit potentially at a competitive disadvantage.”

Carter, whose own base salary was reduced by more than $19,000 to $380,869, said he believes the university is more competitive because of the earlier pay increases that resulted from the compensation study.

The Board of Trustees’ decision to make the first two installments of those salary adjustments “makes us much more attractive than we would have been [without] that,” Carter said. But he said he understands the board’s decision to rescind the final installment.

“We understand the fiscal state of affairs,” he said.