Education

Spellings’ salary near the top for public university leaders

Margaret Spellings talks during a press conference after she was elected president of the University of North Carolina system during a meeting of the UNC Board of Governors at the Spangler Center in Chapel Hill.
Margaret Spellings talks during a press conference after she was elected president of the University of North Carolina system during a meeting of the UNC Board of Governors at the Spangler Center in Chapel Hill. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Margaret Spellings will be one of the highest paid public university administrators in the nation when she takes over the UNC system in March.

With a starting base salary of $775,000, she will make more than outgoing UNC System President Tom Ross, who earns $600,000 a year.

Spellings will have the opportunity to earn money on top of her salary by meeting performance goals she and the Board of Governors agree to. She will also be eligible for salary increases with each annual job evaluation.

Spellings’ starting salary is less than that of top administrators at Texas public universities. The University of Texas chancellor makes $1.2 million, and the Texas A&M system chancellor’s salary is $900,000. But Spellings will make more than the president of the University of Michigan, whose base salary is $750,000, and the University of California president, who makes $570,000 a year.

The UNC system described Spellings’ salary as “highly competitive for public higher education executive talent.”

Though the Board of Governors unanimously approved her appointment, two members, Thom Goolsby and Marty Kotis, voted against her compensation package.

Spellings’ contract and the ability to earn performance pay are an outgrowth of new policies the board adopted this year as it prepared to search for a new system leader. Generally, university presidents served at-will, meaning they could be fired at any time. When the board pushed Ross to retire, he was given a contract that increased his pay from $550,000.

“We have seen a very broad range of total compensation with increasingly higher salaries for more recent university system chief hires,” said G.A. Sywassink, chair of the board’s personnel and tenure committee. “I would describe our proposed terms as highly competitive when compared to our peers. With intentionality, they are designed to recruit and retain a top tier executive to lead our great university system.”

Spellings has a five-year contract that runs from March 1, 2016 to Feb. 28, 2021. If the board decides not to renew her contract after five years, she will receive a one-year research leave at full salary.

The university will pay $35,000 to move her to North Carolina. She’ll receive a car allowance and 30 vacation days a year.

Jane Stancill and Elizabeth Bell contributed.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner

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