UNC system looks at bigger salary ranges for president, chancellors

About to embark on a search for the next UNC system leader, the UNC Board of Governors is taking steps to sweeten the salaries of the president, chancellors and other top executives of the state’s public universities.

On Thursday at a meeting at East Carolina University, the board’s personnel and tenure committee approved new salary ranges that give latitude to offer significantly larger pay packages to top leaders in the university system. The committee also voted for policy changes that would allow contracts, with possibilities for incentive bonuses, deferred compensation, endowment-funded stipends and termination provisions such as severance pay or rights to join the faculty upon departure from an executive job.

The committee approved recommended salary ranges but did not hand out any raises. The full board is likely to adopt the ranges, which would then be guidelines for pay in the future.

Generally, UNC’s top leaders have not worked under contracts. In January, when the board acted to push UNC President Tom Ross to retire, he was given a contract, with a salary of $600,000 and other benefits for the rest of his term. That represented an increase in his pay, which had been $550,000.

Under the new parameters, the salary for a UNC president would match that for chancellors at the two flagship research campuses – UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University. The levels could range from a minimum of $435,000 to a maximum of $1 million, with the more likely market range of $647,000 to $876,000.

“The goal is not to have everybody in the middle of it,” said G.A. Sywassink, a board member. “The goal is to have them where they fall in that range depending on a lot of things – depending on their experience, some of the specific difficulties and all these other kind of things.”

The range allows flexibility, Sywassink said, but does not guarantee a level of salary. “It doesn’t work that way, it never has and it’s not supposed to on this,” he said.

He added that non-salary compensation is not guaranteed either. The other possible elements of compensation are meant to be a menu of options, he said.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson both had base annual salaries of $520,000, according to figures from September of last year. N.C. Central University Chancellor Debra Saunders-White had a salary of $285,000. Chancellors are also provided homes, cars and club memberships as part of their compensation.

The proposed jumps in salary ranges come at a time when state employees have seen little or no raises since the recession.

A special UNC board subcommittee has worked for months to examine the issue of executive pay and followed the recommendations of a consultant who studied market trends. The report said UNC’s current salaries are based largely on pay across higher education and not reflective of the dynamics of a broader market, which might include candidates from the corporate and nonprofit worlds.

Also on Thursday, the deans of the state’s two public medical schools – ECU and UNC – presented figures that showed stagnation of physicians’ salaries.

Dr. Bill Roper, UNC’s medical school dean and CEO of the UNC Health Care System, presented a slideshow that illustrated UNC’s clinical faculty salaries are at the 34th percentile of those of other academic physicians, and dramatically below doctors in private practice. He said he’s losing doctors to Ohio State and Vanderbilt universities.

“It’s happening because they pay people more than we do, and more than we can,” Roper said.

“We need your help,” he added. “As they say in football, it’s gut-check time. Do you want us to have public medical schools serving the people of North Carolina, or don’t you?”

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