Widgets Magazine

Hennessy ranked 11th highest-paid university president

Students stressed by the $50,000 plus required to attend Stanford may be surprised to learn that President John Hennessy makes over 14 times that amount each year in base salary alone.

(ANASTASIA YEE/The Stanford Daily)

For the fiscal year from September 1, 2008 to August 31, 2009, Hennessy made $702,711 in base salary according to public tax documents. The numbers for more recent years, however, remain unknown.

“As part of long-term practice, the University doesn’t discuss the salary of any individual employee, including the president,” wrote Jeff Wachtel, senior assistant to President Hennessy, in an email to The Daily.

The Stanford-specific numbers come from Form 990, a federal tax document required of certain tax-exempt entities. For the fiscal year 2008-2009, Stanford’s 990 lists Hennessy’s pay as “reportable compensation from the organization” and an additional $338,818 in “estimated amount of other compensation from the organization and related organizations.” This is an increase over his base salary of $697,475 in 2008-07 and $667,440 in 2006-07.

The President is selected and hired by the University’s Board of Trustees, which also pays his salary.

However high that number might seem—especially in a still-recovering economy—it is not completely disparate from Stanford’s peer institutions. According to a recent investigation by the Chronicle of Higher Education, America’s top-earning public university president for 2009-10 was Ohio State’s E. Gordon Gee, who collected a base salary of $802,125.

Stanford, along with other private institutions, is not yet obligated to release data from the 2009-10 fiscal year, but a list using public school data from 2009-10 and private school data from 2008-09 puts President Hennessy’s salary at 11th highest in the country.

Hennessy’s salary also compares to that of University of California President Mark Yudof, whose base pay for 2009-10 was $600,000.

The UC system calculates the salaries for Yudof as well as each campus’s individual chancellor and measured it against “comparable positions” at 26 other universities—among them, 14 public schools and 12 private. It gives special weight to eight: Stanford, Yale, Harvard, University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne, SUNY Buffalo, MIT, University of Michigan and University of Virginia.

Stanford and UC administrations took a voluntary salary cut during the recession.

“The President and Provost chose to cut their own salaries by 10 percent during the recent economic downturn,” Wachtel said. “Many administrators then followed and did the same.”

“[Yudof] and other members of the senior management group had taken a voluntary 5 percent salary reduction in January of 2009, and the furlough program started on September 1, 2009,” said Steve Montiel, media relations director for the UC Office of the President. “It was a yearlong program…in the president’s case by 10 percent and I believe for all of the chancellors it was 10 percent also.”

However, schools aren’t as transparent about the benefits—for example, car and house allotments, deferred compensation, bonuses and retirement plans—offered to their administrators. Yudof’s total cost of employment for 2009-10 was, at $783,103, significantly above his base salary.

Hennessy, meanwhile, receives his own set of additional compensation. In addition to the “same benefits that apply to other faculty and staff at Stanford,” he “benefits from a Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan” (SERP), Wachtel said.

SERPs, also known as “top hat plans,” are a common benefit for top-level executives. They are not a method of deferring compensation for retirement, but rather an additional sum offered to maintain quality-of-life during retirement. According to Montiel, these are essential to running a tight ship.

“To attract and retain talent, the University has to pay comparable salaries,” he said. “That talent had made the University of California one of the best, if not the best, public institutions in the world. It’s essential to quality to pay competitive salaries.”

Hennessy could not be reached for comment.

Stanford 990