Originally created 08/15/04

Benefits surge for presidents of universities



ATLANTA - Free cars, houses and club memberships are some of the extra benefits afforded to college and university presidents across Georgia.

When the University System of Georgia released information on presidential benefits earlier this month as part of a presentation on the university heads' compensation, it gave a glimpse into some of the perks given to those leading the state's public institutions of higher education.

For example, every college or university president in the system - from the University of Georgia's Michael Adams to Waycross College's Barbara Losty - receives either a house or a $19,400-a-year allowance to pay for one at taxpayer expense.

Foundations also kick in thousands of dollars' worth of benefits. Several presidents, including those at all research and regional universities, receive a car allowance of some type. For Dr. Adams, it comes to $9,200 a year; Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough gets $17,000 to cover his automobile and related expenses.

Civic club dues are also often covered by foundations, which fork over anywhere from $456 for Dr. Clough to $12,759 for Kennesaw State University's Betty Siegel.

Though the State Board of Regents recently barred foundations from paying presidents directly, they are still allowed to provide perks such as car allowances and club memberships.

But many - including Raymond Cotton, a consultant who worked with the regents to craft their new compensation policy - say those benefits are "tools of the trade," necessities for presidents who often have jobs that require massive fund-raising efforts and extensive travel.

'Part of the office'

Mr. Cotton and others say the president's house is not simply his or her living quarters. Medical College of Georgia President Daniel Rahn, for example, uses the house for alumni events, art shows and fund-raisers for the college and civic organizations, said Brian Ginn, the college's vice president of external affairs.

Larry Ladd, the national director of higher education practice at consulting firm Grant Thornton, said he often meets with presidents at their homes.

"It's a place to sleep, but it's also a part of the office," he said.

The same is true for the cars presidents receive, Mr. Cotton said.

Club memberships often serve as a way for presidents to get in touch with potential donors.

Even some who are uneasy about ever-larger presidential compensation packages conceded that benefits such as houses and cars help presidents do their job. John Curtis, the director of research at the Association of American University Professors, said the benefits are probably needed, but states should avoid "extravagance" in the packages offered to presidents.

Not just in Georgia

Whatever the reason for giving presidential perks, the phenomenon is by no means confined to Georgia. Across the nation, presidents either receive compensation for cars, houses and similar items, or they are provided with those benefits by their universities.

"It does seem that they're becoming more common," Mr. Curtis said, though he cautioned that it's difficult to monitor the trend, given the lack of databases on presidential benefits.

University of Florida President J. Bernard Machen gets a house and a new car every three years. (Both are owned by the university.)

At the University of South Carolina, President Andrew Sorensen lives in a house at the heart of campus; his car is covered by the school's foundation. University of Tennessee President John Petersen also gets to use a car and house owned by the school.

"I don't think it's anything to be concerned about, because it's done everywhere and it's a part of the trade," said E.T. York, chancellor emeritus at the University System of Florida.

Mr. Ladd said new presidents simply expect those benefits.

"At the university level, at least, it's standard practice. It's assumed that the practice will continue," he said.

WHAT THEY GET

A look at some of the perks received by University System Chancellor Tom Meredith and college and university presidents across the state, according to information collected by Raymond Cotton, a consultant for the system.

  State salary Housing Car allowance?
Tom Meredith $278,955 Provided Yes
Wayne Clough - Georgia Tech $236,853 Provided Yes
Michael Adams - University of Georgia $228,299 Provided Yes
Carl Patton - Georgia State $223,677 $19,400* Yes
Daniel Rahn - Medical College of Ga. $221,789** Provided Yes
Bruce Grube - Georgia Southern $156,952 $19,400 Yes
William Bloodworth - Augusta State $135,939 $19,400 Yes

*Dr. Patton receives an additional $20,314 in housing allowance and insurance from the university's foundation.

**Figure does not include a $180,000 pay raise approved for Dr. Rahn by the State Board of Regents at its last meeting.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.