Presidential salaries at Kentucky's public universities and community colleges have grown far faster than the wages of faculty members in recent years.
Pay increases for university presidents ranged from 5 percent to 34 percent between 2006 and 2010, according to a new report from the Legislative Research Commission. For faculty, the average pay raise was 7.7 percent statewide during the same period, according to the Southern Regional Education Board.
Community college presidents have fared well, too: Their average raise was nearly 12 percent, compared to about 6 percent for the average community college professor.
Meanwhile, public universities and community colleges have lost $105 million in state funding since 2006, bringing cuts to education programs and higher tuition for students. Higher education faces another possible cut, $62 million, over the next two years.
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The information on presidential salaries was produced by the Program Review and Investigations Committee, which asked for a report on the Kentucky Community and Technical College System after KCTCS officials spent $1.3 million to lobby the legislature in 2010.
At the University of Kentucky, the president's base salary increased from $286,000 in 2006 to $304,010 in 2010, a 6.3 percent increase. That was roughly in line with the change in salary for faculty during the same time period.
However, when the salary of President Eli Capilouto, who was hired in 2011 with a base salary of $500,000, is included in the calculation, the base salary for UK's president has increased 74 percent since 2006.
The largest increase in presidential pay noted in the study was at Western Kentucky University, where President Gary Ransdell's base salary jumped 34 percent between 2006 and 2010, from $262,512 to $352,020.
Presidential salaries are an increasingly hot topic in higher education around the country, as state funding drops and tuition keeps going up.
"There is the question of whether the compensation is excessive, given the roles and responsibilities and the public service element of the institutions," said John Hayek, vice president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, which oversees Kentucky higher education. "On the one side, there are competitive issues of attracting highly qualified individuals; on the other, we have to remember these are institutions supported through public dollars.
"There's some recognition there has to be a balance."
Kentucky has stayed in line with national averages on pay in higher education, according to a study by the American Association of University Professors in Washington, D.C. Between 2007 and 2010, the AAUP found, the average salary for a president at a research university went up 12.3 percent, compared to a 5.6 increase in faculty salaries.
For community colleges, the average presidential raise was 10.5 percent in that three-year span, compared to 4.5 percent for community college professors.
John Curtis, director of research and public policy for AAUP, said the trends reflect a continuing focus on a more corporate style of governance in higher education.
"The usual justification that's given from a governing body is, 'We need to pay these salaries to remain competitive,'" Curtis said. "The problem with that logic is that there doesn't seem to be any connection to accomplishment; it's kind of an upwards spiral. It reflects a shift in priorities that puts more focus on this corporate style of management."
Sometimes, deciphering how much a president gets paid is complicated.
KCTCS President Michael McCall made a base salary of $304,890 in 2010. But he also received a $90,000 housing allowance, $91,647 in deferred compensation and $83,338 in other benefits, including retirement and health care, according to the legislative report. His total package went up 111 percent between 2006 and 2010, according to the report.
University of Louisville President James Ramsey received base pay of $314,037 in 2010. But last December, the U of L board gave him a raise that increased his base to $600,000. In addition, the board created retention bonuses that pay him $500,000 for every two years he stays through 2020. Nearly half of his salary and the bonuses are paid by the University of Louisville Foundation, not the school's general fund.
Ramsey turned down several bonuses between 2008 and 2010, but he said in a press release he had accepted this one because faculty and staff also received a raise.
WKU spokesman Bob Skipper said Ransdell had received a longevity incentive in 2007 that boosted his salary by 25 percent. Also that year, he received a 3 percent raise, and in 2009 he received a $500 bonus, the same raise and bonus received by all faculty and staff.
Last year, the Chronicle on Higher Education said McCall was the highest-paid community college president in the country.
However, KCTCS vice president Tim Burcham said there are only three other state systems of community colleges that are comparable to KCTCS.
"Dr. McCall was brought here under House Bill 1 to start a new institution of higher education," said Burcham, who works directly under McCall. "He has created one of the best community college systems in the country; that has been verified many times. As presidential compensation goes, he's in the mix with everyone else in the state. By far, we're operating the largest institution with the most complex mission. No apologies; he deserves it."
Jake Gibbs, a history professor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, said he always assumed that college presidents received roughly the same raises as faculty, which in the past few years have been few and far between.
The legislative report shows that BCTCS President Augusta Julian's salary rose 20.6 percent between 2006 and 2010.
"I am surprised and dismayed," Gibbs said. "I thought the suffering would be distributed. I'm surprised people at the top are the ones they make the exceptions for here."