A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher of Education revealed that President Michael Roth is one of the highest paid liberal arts college presidents, which, in light of the budget cuts that campus programs currently face, generated significant criticism from students.

The salary number reported in The Chronicle, however, came from Roth’s first year in office, and therefore included a benefit package, a compensation package, and an incentive package for Roth to leave the California College of Arts (CCA), where he had been the sitting president. In reality, Roth’s salary is only half of what was stated.

“I was shocked frankly to see my name in there,” Roth said. “I’m paid what the Board agreed to pay me and in this case my salary will decline significantly next year.”

The Chronicle listed Roth’s salary at $564,007, with a total compensation at $640,758 for the fiscal year of 2007-2008. Williams College President Morton Schapiro earned nearly $100,000 less and Middlebury College President Ronald Liebowitz earned nearly $200,000 less in the same fiscal calendar.

Former University President Doug Bennet received a retirement package worth $705,000, which included a retention bonus and consultations in his last year at the University, which was Roth’s first year as President.

“In essence what happened is that we needed to recruit this president away from another college,” said John Meerts, Vice President for Finance and Administration. “We had to, at minimum, match his salary. The numbers that were being shown in the article are a result of collapsing certain payments into one lump sum. The base salary is in about the mid-$300,000 range.”

In order to persuade Roth to come to Wesleyan, the University had to pay him a retention bonus that the CCA had already agreed to pay him.

“He was a sitting president and the [CCA] loved him and paid him well,” Meerts said. “We were faced with a situation. It stands to reason that would have to offer a comparable compensation package.”

The $640,758 salary that The Chronicle recorded includes a compensation package, and a car and a cell phone that the University gave to the President. This package does not include the President’s residence.

“There’s money in there that, because of his contract, he really didn’t get in ’07-’08,” said Associate Vice President for Finance Nathan Peters.

“Next year’s tax form may show a lower number, but there will be some double counting as the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) is changing reporting requirements from a fiscal year (July to June) to a calendar year basis, just like for taxes. It is in the third year, which will be reported in spring 2011, that there are no increases and bonuses.”

When staff and faculty salary freezes went into effect last year, Roth decided not to receive a pay increase or the annual presidential bonus.

“My salary has been frozen,” Roth said. “I’m not complaining; it’s appropriate. I don’t think the faculty are overpaid at Wesleyan. I really appreciate that the faculty as a whole are willing to make sacrifices.”

The president usually gets a bonus amount each year to encourage him to stay or to reward good performance. This occurs at most colleges and universities, and it could equal ten to twenty percent of the presidential salary, varying year to year, according to Meerts.

“When a decision was made at the University cabinet level that there weren’t going to be any increases for faculty or for staff, he said, ‘Not for me either,’” Meerts said. “Last year, like everybody else on this campus, the president did not get an increase and did not get a bonus.”

Roth’s recent tenure as a professor did not affect his salary either. Roth was tenured two months ago and the salary reported is from the 2007 fiscal year. While it is very common for a president to have a tenured position at the college in which they sit, very rarely do they get compensated for it. Often, presidents who have an academic career will gain tenure so that at the end of their presidency they can continue to teach and will be assured a position.

“I teach because I love to teach and the students tolerate my teaching,” Roth said. “I love teaching and I love being at Wesleyan.”

  • Madeline

    Glad to hear the whole story – thanks for investigating this, Argus!

  • David Lott, ’65

    College President Meets Casablanca: “Shocked, shocked!”

    Now that I’ve had my little haha, I say it again.

    People who can run a school like Wesleyan effectively are of a rare breed. If Roth does the job he seems to be capable of, he will be worth every penny.