Northeastern’s Joseph Aoun Was the State’s Best-Paid College President in 2011

The Chronicle of Higher Education released its annual survey of university executive compensation.


Joseph Aoun image by Signal Pad on Flickr

The Chronicle of Higher Education released its annual list of the best paid college and university presidents, publishing the total take home pay in the year 2011 for the nation’s university chiefs. The heads of a few Massachusetts schools are way atop the list.

The best paid president in the country is Robert J. Zimmer of the University of Chicago, but just after him in second place is Northeastern’s Joseph E. Aoun, who took in about $3.1 million in 2011. Also in the top twenty are Tufts’ Lawrence Bacow in fifth place, and former Amherst College president Anthony W. Marx was 11th, who took in a large amount because of deferred compensation and unused sabbatical. The heads of Massachusetts schools moved way up the list from last year, when B.U.’s Brown was the best paid president in the state but just 24th in the nation. This year the top five in Massachusetts are:

1. Joseph E. Aoun – Northeastern University – $3,121,864 — 2nd overall

2. Lawrence S. Bacow — Tufts University — $2,223,752 — 5th overall

3. Anthony W. Marx – Amherst College – $1,596,283 — 11th overall

4. Robert A. Brown – Boston University – $1,381,264 — 14th overall

5. Susan Hockfield – Massachusetts Institute of Technology – $1,199,877 — 28th overall

The Chronicle of Higher Education, a news publication out of Washington D.C., uses IRS data, submitted by the non-profit institutions into the public record, to calculate their pay. The relative positions of president jump around a bit drastically from year to year because, as the Boston Globe reports, much of these figures comes not just from base pay but one-time payments for things like deferred sabbaticals, unused vacations, and large retirement benefits. Aoun’s towering figure from 2011, for instance, included $2 million that won’t be paid out until he leaves the university. The list also doesn’t hew closely to the traditional rankings of the schools themselves. Harvard’s Drew Gilpin Faust, for instance, is just 54th on the list, earning $899,734 in 2011.

The one stable thing you can count each year is the general direction of compensation: up. The constant rise in pay seems unbounded by annual complaints about tuition prices and student debt, with universities generally justifying the salaries as the price you pay for great leadership.

You can see the full ranking over on the Chronicle’s site.