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Bill would cap pay of university presidents

The $225,000 ceiling would not affect current salaries. Eight of 11 presidents already earn more than the proposed lid.

By ANITA KUMAR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2003

Florida lawmakers griping about the escalating salaries of university presidents have come up with a way to halt the statewide bidding war.

The Legislature is considering a bill that would cap the amount of state money paid to presidents at $225,000 annually. Anything above that would have to come from private sources. "We think it's the right thing to do," said Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville. "Goodness gracious. . . . It's not like they are going to starve to death."

Eight of the 11 state university presidents now receive more than $225,000 a year from the state, thanks in large part to a recent round of pay increases. Two presidents have state salaries of at least $300,000.

Retiring University of Florida president Charles Young became the highest-paid president in December when the school bumped his annual pay from $256,800 to $350,000. The University of South Florida soon followed suit, raising president Judy Genshaft's salary to $325,000.

The others make between $175,000 and $295,000. Most money for salaries comes from state funds but some are supplemented by private donations. Genshaft's salary, for example, includes $25,000 from the USF Foundation.

The rising salaries come as state officials consider the largest tuition increases in a decade -- as much as 12.5 percent -- and a dramatic reduction in financial aid. Both are products of a slow economy and skyrocketing enrollment.

"There's a disconnect," said Wise, the bill sponsor. "I think it's wrong."

The bill (SB 1370) unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee but still has several stops before making it to the Senate floor. A House version being prepared caps all state employee salaries, including university presidents, at $200,000 and requires legislative approval for anything more.

Florida State University president T.K. Wetherell, who receives almost $290,000 annually, said the proposal doesn't surprise him, considering how much attention the salaries have received in the past few months. "It's fine with me," Wetherell said. "Just be done with it and move on."

The race to see which university could top the other was prompted by a change last year that allowed individual schools to set their own salaries for the first time in decades.

The base salaries do not include a slew of other perks received by university presidents, including the use of presidential mansions and cars, country club memberships and thousands of dollars contributed to their retirement funds. Some even receive money for their spouses.

The bill would not affect current salaries, only new contracts or contract extensions. But it could affect schools -- including UF -- that are searching for new presidents and want to make their compensation packages as attractive as possible.

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