KU chancellor’s pay ranks 86th among U.S. public university leaders

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was the 86th-highest-paid public university executive in 2011-12, according to a report published this week by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Her total compensation of just more than $475,000 was an increase of about 0.8 percent from the previous year.

The Chronicle’s report analyzed the total compensation for the chief executives at 191 different public universities and university systems around the country for the 2012 fiscal year — roughly equivalent to the 2011-12 academic year. Four different executives made more than $1 million during that year. (For perspective: 36 different executives at private universities topped the $1 million mark during the 2010 calendar year.)

The highest-paid public-university executive for the year was Graham Spanier, who was fired in November 2011 as president at Pennsylvania State University because of “insufficient action” related to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse allegations and now faces felony charges related to the Sandusky case. Under the circumstances, his big payday sounds pretty crazy, but it makes sense if you look at the details: Spanier had served in the job for 16 years, he was already the third-highest paid executive the year before and most of the $2.9 million he earned in 2011-12 came from severance and deferred compensation spelled out by his contract.

Because the Chronicle analysis looks at total compensation and not just annual salaries, it includes things such as severance, retirement payouts and deferred compensation packages. That’s one reason there are some university leaders near the top of the list that seem to be head-scratchers. (Auburn? George Mason? Ball State?)

Gray-Little received about $429,000 in base pay (ranking 60th nationally), according to the Chronicle, plus retirement pay and $25,000 in annual deferred compensation that she is to receive whenever she leaves the job. (UPDATE: As KU spokesman Jack Martin pointed out to me, some of that pay comes from private donations and not state funds. For the 2012 fiscal year, about $267,000 of Gray-Little’s salary was paid by state funds.)

Among the 10 institutions that KU leaders consider “peer universities,” her compensation ranked seventh. Her pay ranked below that for former KU provost Richard Lariviere as president of the University of Oregon, but the bulk of his $485,000 in compensation came from a severance payment he received when he was fired. She ranked below two different Penn State presidents, because Rodney Erickson earned nearly $550,000 after he replaced Spanier.

Other Kansas executives included in the report were Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz, who ranked 131st with about $396,000 in compensation; and Donald Beggs, who retired in June 2012 as president of Wichita State University and ranked 182nd with about $303,000.

Gray-Little does receive one benefit that the Chronicle reports is not included in the numbers because it’s tough to quantify: She lives in a university-owned home (and has a university-owned car). The KU chancellor’s residence, known as the Outlook, is worth about $2.4 million, according to the Chronicle.

Those salary numbers can be interesting to poke around in, though I probably need to pull myself away now. Help me do that by sending a KU news tip to merickson@ljworld.com.

More LJWorld KU News Coverage

  • Recent Kansas University news stories
  • Heard on the Hill KU news blog
  • Follow @LJW_KU on Twitter