WASHINGTON – You get what you pay for — that’s how state officials and colleagues are defending the hefty compensation package offered to William “Brit” Kirwan, incoming chancellor for the University System of Maryland.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say he is worth his weight in gold, but he’s absolutely worth whatever compensation he’s being paid,” said Delegate Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery.
When Kirwan takes over as chancellor in August, his $375,000 salary will be more than $100,000 above the median paid last year to heads of doctoral degree granting university system last year. The national median in 2001 was $267,148, according to the College and University Personnel Association for Human Resources.
Kirwan’s pay will exceed current Chancellor Donald Langenberg’s by $15,430, according to state personnel records, and will be further augmented by a reported $100,000 in deferred compensation to offset lost pension income. Residency at Hidden Waters, the state-owned chancellor’s mansion assessed at more than $1 million, is part of the package as well.
An informal survey of institutions by Capital News Service found that Kirwan’s salary trumps those currently being paid to heads of several larger university systems, including the State University of New York (SUNY), the University of California, the California State University and the University of Georgia systems.
But comparing different systems — and the jobs of running them — is tricky, experts in education administration say.
Paul Lingenfelter, director of State Higher Education Executive Officers in Denver, said a true “apples-to-apples” comparison is virtually impossible because the job varies so much around the country. While some chiefs deeal primarily with budget and legislative policy, he said, others focus on more hands-on, operational issues.
“And in some systems like Maryland, you’ve got a combination of both,” he said.
Richard Ingram, president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, agreed. He called Kirwan’s salary package “absolutely appropriate for the level of responsibility and complex nature of the system he’s been asked to be chancellor for.”
Even if Kirwan’s salary is on the high side, it’s indicative of a national trend, said Jerry Gaither, author of “The Multicampus System.” Gaither, who directs institutional research at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, said salaries for system heads are climbing in response to increased job pressures, market competition and high turnover.
“Funding for higher education is dropping, and it’s going to get tighter,” he said. “The pressure is put more and more on system heads — both from the top and the bottom.
“This is not a `scholar and gentleman’ position anymore. Now you’re running a business — a multimillion-dollar business,” Gaither said.
The recent influx of candidates from the private sector, who demand higher earnings, has only intensified the situation, he said.
Kirwan’s numerous fans in Annapolis and in education circles rise quickly to defend his worth. In the current competitive environment, they said, he is an even better deal.
“I think you’ve got a very competitive market,” said Delegate Frank Turner, D-Howard. “If you look around the nation and read the industry journals, you’ll find that a lot of president and dean positions are vacant. These are very high-pressure jobs. You have to do something to attract the best candidate.”
Franchot emphasized the in-state experience that Kirwan, a former president of the University of Maryland, College Park, brings to the job.
“We had to pay more for him than for someone we didn’t know, who hadn’t spent a single day in Maryland,” Franchot said. “Brit has a proven track record — here, in Maryland. This is not some pie-in-the-sky new prospect, so he’s worth the whole compensation.”
But Sen. Bob Kittleman, R-Howard, said Kirwan’s compensation has to be considered in light of the state’s ongoing budget crunch.
Kittleman said he has not seen details of the package, but he expressed concern over the disparity between the national median salary and that being offered to Kirwan. Besides being well over the median for doctoral degree granting systems, Kirwan’s salary is a full 170 percent of the median for all university system heads, which was $222,157 in 2001.
“I don’t believe in overpaying anyone for anything. We don’t have the money in Maryland to afford it,” Kittleman said. “It sounds like it may be out of line with other states, and I’ll be looking into it in that regard.”
Despite the budget shortfall, Delegate Martha Klima, R-Howard, said Kirwan’s price is probably worth paying, especially since his appointment puts an end to the controversy surrounding Gov. Parris Glendening’s early candidacy for the job.
Glendening had expressed interest in the job last fall but withdrew following criticism, after it was noted that he had appointed a majority of the university system’s current regents, who appoint the chancellor.
“If this elevates us out of that political quagmire, it’s worth it,” Klima said. “I say yes, good riddance, let’s move on. Let’s go ahead and confirm Dr. Kirwan.”