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Doctors top list of universities' best paid

Doctors topped the list of highest-paid employees at private colleges and universities during the 2007 fiscal year, according to a report published by the Chronicle of Higher Education last month.

Of the 10 highest earners nationally, eight are doctors or medical administrators.

The highest-paid university employee in the country was University of Southern California Football Head Coach Pete Carroll, who earned $4.4 million between July 2006 and June 2007. His salary was four times higher than that of the university's president.

According to the report, 46 medical school faculty members and administrators around the country made more than $1 million last year.

Even for doctors, these salaries are atypical, said former Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Eli Adashi, who said he was "surprised at the magnitude" of some of the salaries the report listed. Adashi, currently a professor of obstetrics-gynecology at the Alpert Medical School, made just under $500,000 as BioMed dean in 2007, The Herald reported in December.

Columbia dermatologist David Silvers took home the second largest paycheck, $4.3 million, in 2007. Michael Johns, Emory University's executive vice president for health affairs, took home $3.8 million.

"The whole salary context in medical schools is different," said John Curtis, director of research and public policy at the American Association of University Professors. Curtis said salaries tend to be higher on average at medical schools and doctors often earn additional income from clinical practice - a fact that only complicates the kind of comparison made by the Chronicle, he said.

Curtis said he was concerned the Chronicle's report was unclear about whether clinical income was included in the salary figures referenced in the report. He said he felt the report was misleading and "frankly, kind of sensationalism."

Jeffrey Brainard, a senior reporter for the Chronicle and a co-author of the report, declined to comment on the report's content and methodology.

The highest paid university president in 2007 was Gordon Gee, then-president of Vanderbilt University and now president of Ohio State University - who earned a total compensation of $2.1 million. But Gee, a former president of Brown, earned less than two medical administrators at Vanderbilt, where Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs Harry Jacobson earned $2.6 million and former Executive Vice President of Clinical Affairs Norman Urmy earned $2.4 million.

Physicians who draw high salaries usually generate a lot of income for their schools, Adashi said. Typically these physicians perform expensive or highly technical procedures, he said.

Tony Pals, director of public information at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, an advocacy group, agreed.

"The salaries largely reflect market trends," Pals said. "There is a significant demand for highly qualified market professionals." He said because many of these doctors would earn even higher salaries if they chose to work in the private sector, schools need to offer incentives in order to retain top talent.

Of the six highest paid employees at Brown, two were medical administrators - both Adashi and then-Chair of Medicine Edward Wing, who has since replaced Adashi as BioMed dean, made about $500,000 in 2007. The only Brown employee to earn more than $1 million was Chief Financial Officer Cynthia Frost, who made $1,351,639 in fiscal year 2007.

The Chronicle reported that two of the top 10 earners were specialists in reproductive medicine. Zev Rosenwaks, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at Cornell, made $3.1 million in 2007.

Adashi, a specialist in reproductive medicine himself, said doctors like Rosenwaks often perform expensive procedures, such as in-vitro fertilization, which generate a lot of income for the school. Adashi said that the center at Cornell performs over 2,500 in-vitro fertilization procedures every year. According to the center, one in-vitro procedure costs around $8,900.

"Physicians that build these kinds of centers are internationally recognized and are in high demand," Adashi said, but added that multi-million-dollar salaries are rare. "I'm not used to physicians that are earning in excess of $1 million."

Administrator salaries 'drift upwards'

In regards to medical administrators, however, high incomes are harder to justify, Adashi said. Academic leaders don't necessarily generate income for schools the way physicians do, he said.

Although the job of an administrator is certainly difficult, "running Emory is not any more difficult than running the University of Utah," Adashi said, adding that it was difficult to explain the variability in incomes for medical administrators because most have similar job responsibilities.

Curtis agreed it is difficult to justify high salaries for medical administrators, as did Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an advocacy group.

Emory and Vanderbilt were the only two schools represented in all three of the top-10 lists published by the Chronicle. The lists compiled the highest paid employees in three categories: general faculty and staff, chief financial officers and chief academic officers.

Pals said this reflected both schools' attempt to improve their national profiles and gain a more competitive position among their peer institutions by hiring highly skilled professionals.

"There's been a drift upwards in administrative salaries," Callan said, noting that the schools with the highest-paid presidents also have other highly compensated administrators.

"It's not a coincidence," Callan said. "If you have $1 million presidents, pretty soon you will have $800,000 provosts and $500,000 deans."

Increasing administrative salaries are a problem, Callan said, and "people are losing confidence in higher education." The National Center regularly sponsors surveys to gauge public opinion about higher education. Callan said that, while people rarely complain about doctors' salaries, university presidents and coaches are often perceived as overpaid.

The issue will be difficult to resolve, he said. "It's a matter of judgment of boards of trustees," he said. People at the top are "taking more than their fair share" while students and faculty don't see

the benefits.

Most colleges and universities are non-profit organizations, Callan said. "People don't think of higher education as a field you enter to be a millionaire."

The Chronicle's report was compiled from certain Internal Revenue Service tax forms from each private institution, which are public for all private, non-profit institutions. According to the report, the data include only the five highest-compensated employees, plus the financial and academic officers, at each of the 600 institutions. Money that coaches receive from outside endorsements is not necessarily reflected in the data, as colleges are not required to report those figures.


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