State IHL board controls MSU's president contract

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - One thing is sure about the contract being

negotiated for Mississippi State University's new president: It

will not be more than the compensation package for the University

of Mississippi's chancellor.

That's a promise from Amy Whitten of Oxford, president of the

state Board of Institutions of Higher Learning.

Currently, MSU and Ole Miss pay their top officials the same -

$220,500 in public funds and $208,500 from private sources.

They also each get a state car, a house and annual retirement

pay for a total package of $446,775 a year.

For a state that usually finds itself at the bottom of national

lists, in this instance, they're a notch above the median salary

for public research universities.

And that's about where they're going to stay for a while,

predicts Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, a member of the House

Appropriations Committee.

"If there's any money for higher education this year," Holland

said, "it's going to go for decreasing tuition, not executive


In the wake of a souring national economy, university executive

compensation is drawing increased scrutiny, The Chronicle for

Higher Education's reports.

According to The Chronicle's latest survey, median pay and

benefits rose 7.6 percent in 2007-08, to $427,400, for the leaders

of 184 public research universities.

Fifty-nine presidents of public universities made more than

$500,000 in salary and benefits during the 2007-08 academic year,

more than double the number who broke the half-million mark three

years earlier, CHE showed.

Topping the list is Ohio State University's E. Gordon Gee, who

left an even sweeter deal at private Vanderbilt University in 2007.

For the 2008 academic year, he's drawing $1.3 million, including a

$310,000 bonus announced this month.

Only three private college leaders made more in 2007, the most

recent year with data: presidents at Suffolk University ($2.8

million), Northwestern University ($1.7 million) and Columbia

University ($1.4 million).

In Mississippi, the compensation for most of the eight public

university presidents falls far short of the national median.

Just a few weeks before Keenum was hired for MSU, IHL chose

Donna Oliver to lead Mississippi Valley State University at Itta

Bena. IHL records show her four-year contract is for $192,938


By comparison, University of Southern Mississippi's Martha

Saunders receives a $363,275 package, followed by Jackson State's

Ronald Mason at $270,500 and Delta State's John Hilpert at


Each of the eight also gets a car and a house with the deal.

Richard D. Cotton, a Washington lawyer who negotiates

compensation packages within higher education, says it's in the

best interest of institutions to invest in state university


"The best buy a university makes - the best single investment

it makes - is in its president," he told the Chronicle.

What is clear is that regional institutions competing for talent

in a nationwide pool are finding it hard to keep up.

And competition also will increase with anticipated retirements

soon from the many university presidents age 61 or older, according

to a spring 2008 report by the American Council on Education and

the College and University Professional Association for Human


"If half of these individuals chose to retire in the next five

years," their report said, "one quarter of college presidencies

will become vacant."