President E. Gordon Gee sits at the top of the newly released list of the nation’s highest paid public university presidents, earning a salary shy of $2 million in the 2011 fiscal year.
Recently published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the list includes 199 of the nation’s highest paid public university presidents.
Gee’s total compensation of $1,992,221 is comprised of a base pay of $814,157, $881,278 in deferred compensation and $296,786 of bonus pay, which the university says is paid out of non-public funds.
Second on the list is Texas A&M President Michael McKinney who, despite serving a partial year, would have earned $1,966,347 for one year’s salary.
Ohio State and Texas A&M are comparable in rank, one factor that some say is important in determining salary.
OSU and Texas A&M were ranked 17th and 19th in the nation, respectively, on U.S. News and World Report’s 2012 top public schools ranking.
Alex Fischer, president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, a nonprofit organization of Columbus-area CEOs, said that considering OSU’s reputation, Gee is deserving of such a salary.
“I think it would hold true that if you take one of the best recognized and highly-held university presidents at one of the world’s greatest institutions that the salary would be commensurate,” Fischer said.
Fischer said OSU’s leadership, Gee in particular, draws students to the university.
Jim Lynch, OSU spokesman, said the average ACT score of incoming freshman was 28 out of a possible 36, with about 55 percent of the incoming students graduating within the top 10 percent of their high school class.
Additionally, the university’s first-year retention rate stands at a record level of 92.8 percent, Lynch said.
Requests for comment from Gee directly were not returned.
Taylor Stepp, Undergraduate Student Government president-elect, said Gee “absolutely deserves that salary.”
“President Gee is a fantastic president,” Stepp said. “In my opinion, he is the best university president in the country.”
Fischer said the enrollment and size of OSU are also important when considering Gee’s salary.
Though OSU sits high on the list of the largest public universities in the country with a total enrollment of about 64,435, including branch campuses. Arizona State University takes the No. 1 spot with a total enrollment of about 72,250.
Despite having a larger enrollment by more than 7,000, Arizona State University President Michael Crow received a base pay of $566,200 with a total compensation of $651,700 in 2011, a fraction of Gee’s salary.
Luke McPherson, a first-year in architecture, said Gee has a large responsibility but wonders whether his salary is warranted.
“If you had an entire school or campus on you, hopefully you would be making good money,” McPherson said. “But is $2 million necessary?”
Sally Miller, plant pathology professor at the OSU-Wooster campus, said she has an issue with Gee’s salary compared to that of faculty and staff.
“There’s a big gap between our higher administrators and staff, and I think that there should be moderation in the way we pay people,” Miller said. “I don’t think such a big gap is a good thing.”
Molly Shack, a fourth-year international studies and Spanish, was a part of the Re-Imagine OSU event on May 16 and 17. The event drew students from all over campus to the South Oval to protest the power structure at OSU.
Shack said Gee is not deserving of the salary he was given and relates it to a larger problem with the university administration as a whole.
“The way Gee is paid is a perfect reflection of how the Board of Trustees and the administration at the university are able to sort of manipulate the entire 100,000-plus student(s), staff and faculty on campus really without any sort of accountability,” Shack said.
Shack said Gee is the “best politician in Ohio.”
“He will be very successful at convincing people that he deserves that much money,” Shack said.
Geoff Chatas, OSU’s chief financial officer, said the salary is set by the Board, and the money is not public funds.
“There won’t be tuition increases used to cover the president’s salary whatsoever,” Chatas said.
Dale Butland, communication director of Innovation Ohio, a nonpartisan think-tank, said Gee’s salary should not be seen as a personal reflection on the president.
“You can’t blame Gordon Gee for accepting what the Board of Trustees is willing to pay him,” Butland said. “Someone has to be the highest paid public university president in the nation, and the fact that it’s Mr. Gee doesn’t make him either a bad person or a bad president.”
While he said he is sure the OSU Board of Trustees is paying Gee what he is worth, Butland said he finds Gee’s high travel expenses to be unwarranted.
The Dayton Daily News reported in May that OSU had spent at least $844,000 on Gee’s travel since becoming president in 2007.
“It’s important that those at the top of the heap exercise restraint, set an example and show that they’re willing to share in the sacrifice that they’re asking everyone else,” Butland said.
Butland said he doesn’t have anything against “living large,” but he thinks this kind of lifestyle is generally not for public employees.
“If you want to live like a corporate CEO, you should get a job in the private sector,” Butland said.
Fischer said Gee’s work is comparable to that of a private CEO, warranting his salary.
“Dr. Gee is running a very complex $5 billion-plus organization, and if you were doing that in the private sector, the pay would likely be much greater than that,” Fischer said.