Gora fifth-highest paid president in country

The Associated Press with the Daily News

BUFFALO, N.Y.  — Ball State President Jo Ann Gora, ranked fifth in a new list of the country's highest paid public college leaders, has an average salary of more than $436,000 over the last nine years.

Her deferred compensation boosted her salary this year to $985,000, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education's annual ranking of public college presidents' earnings, released Sunday.

The deferred pay comes from two payments awarded to Gora, but managed through the university. A retention incentive, which rewards her for staying at the university, also added to her salary this year.

Hollis Hughes, president of the Board of Trustees, said Gora being placed on the list might be misleading.

"Dr. Gora has earned this money over a longer period of time. This is not one year's salary- this is compensation that she has earned over her nine-year tenure with the university," Hughes said. "I'm certain there's not much I can say that will dissuade people to not be concerned about the amount at this particular time, but it was imperative."

Hughes said the deferred payments were made to her from Ball State to keep her in office and improve the quality of  the university.

"The important thing is that people need to understand that this is an anomaly that's created by the longevity of her tenure," Hughes said. "I think most of us are in agreement that she's done a good job."

Sophomore music education major Aubrey Davis said Gora is a good president, but the amount of money this year is a bit steep.

"I think President Gora is really awesome. She came and spoke to us at band camp and she's really sweet," she said. "I really like her but that's a lot of money."

Freshmen glassblowing major Kyle Bradley said that while deferred pay is an option, it may not be the best one.

"I understand that's she allowed to push her salary back that long, I just don't understand why they let her take it all at once," he said.

Gora was one of two women in the top 10 of 2011-12, ranking just above Mary Sue Coleman of the University of Michigan, who earned $919,000. Coleman was the lone woman among last year's top 10.

Former Penn State President Graham Spanier became the highest paid of the group when he was forced out over his handling of the sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

The Chronicle of Higher Education's annual ranking of public college presidents' earnings said Spanier's $2.9 million pay, which included $1.2 million in severance and $1.2 million in deferred compensation, put him well ahead of his peers when he left Penn State in November 2011.

Spanier, who led the college for 16 years, is awaiting trial on criminal charges of perjury, obstruction, endangering the welfare of children, failure to properly report suspected child abuse and conspiracy stemming from administrators' handling of sex abuse allegations against Sandusky. Spanier has vigorously denied the charges.

Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of abusing 10 boys and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.

Former Florida A&M University President James Ammons also saw his place on the earning list rise amid scandal. He ranked 11th at $781,000 after collecting $422,000 in severance and bonuses when he resigned in the wake of the hazing death of a marching band member.

While the median compensation for public college presidents was $441,392, a 4.7 percent increase over 2010-11, Spanier was one of four chief executives to surpass the $1 million threshold in 2011-12, one more than the previous year. The others were Auburn University President Jay Gogue, who received $2.5 million; E. Gordon Gee of Ohio State University, who earned $1.9 million; and now-retired George Mason University's Alan Merten, whose total pay plus benefits and deferred compensation totaled $1.87 million.

Deferred compensation plans, meant as retention incentives, give executives a lump sum after a specified number of years on the job.

Ammons, who is black, was the highest earning minority among the college presidents.

Gee, who topped the 2010-11 earnings list and became the first public college president in the million-dollar club in 2007-08, had the highest base salary last year: $830,439. That was more than double the median base salary, which inched up 2 percent to $373,800.

A separate analysis of the pay of private college presidents released by the Chronicle in December found 36 leaders received $1 million or more in 2010. The numbers are older because of lag time in the release of the federal tax information on which they are based.

The public college data is based on a survey of institutions. It analyzed compensation of 212 presidents at 191 public research institutions. The leaders outnumbered institutions because the survey included those whose tenures began or ended during the fiscal year.

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