President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 was paid $1,765,827 in the calendar year 2022, University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald.
Paxson’s compensation will be reported in the University’s tax filings in May 2024, Clark wrote. It will be second only to Paxson’s compensation of just over $2,000,000 in 2021.
A Herald analysis of compensation data — from IRS form 990 tax filings since 2013 and the Office of Institutional Research — identified a growing gap between compensation for Paxson and faculty members. And professors from Brown’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors voiced concerns with existing faculty compensation schemes.
Paxson’s total 2022 compensation drops 14% from record-high $2 million in 2021
Paxson’s $1.7 million dollar compensation in 2022 is down 14% from an all-time high of just over $2 million in 2021.
The record compensation in 2021 was driven by a deferred compensation payout of $782,945. The payout came from six-figure installments that accumulated every year since 2017.
Clark wrote to The Herald that among executives at Brown, compensation is decided by the Committee on Senior Administration of the Corporation — the University’s highest governing body and fiduciary. For executives, compensation “is generally targeted to the 25th to 75th percentile of the market on an overall basis.”
He added that Paxson’s “total cash compensation falls below the median when compared to peers at other highly selective private universities,” which he attributed to a “salary report produced by an independent analyst.”
Clark declined to provide the schools listed in the report because it “is not Brown’s report to distribute publicly.” He did not provide the name of the independent analyst.
A 2023 analysis of private college compensation by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that in 2020, Paxson ranked 34th among 307 chief executives for base pay. She ranked 73rd for total pay, which includes bonuses, benefits and other compensation.
Among Ivy League colleges, Paxson ranked fourth for total compensation and sixth for base compensation in 2021, according to form 990 filings for all eight schools.
A 2014 study of college president pay conducted by University of Alabama accounting professor Linda Parsons found that among private schools, higher-paid university presidents tend to improve measures of academic quality, like student SAT scores. But private schools didn’t tend to compensate presidents more for improving academic environments, such as by shrinking class sizes.
Parsons told The Herald that college presidents are often highly compensated if they are effective at raising money for their institutions.
The University crossed its BrownTogether fundraising target of $3 billion in fall 2021, though Clark told The Herald that specific fundraising and endowment targets are not factored into her compensation.
Parsons added that because many individuals already aspire to become university presidents, the salary isn’t usually there to make the job more desirable.
“There’s not really a shortage of available individuals … a number of people aspire to make their way up through the administrative ranks,” she said. “A lot of people look in the mirror in the morning and say, ‘That’s a future university president.’”
Compensation gap between Paxson and faculty
Paxson’s high compensation comes amid faculty and administrative discussions surrounding educator salaries. According to data from the University’s Employees Factbook, educators saw their salaries — not including bonuses — grow anywhere from 16.77% to 26.94% between 2014 and 2022. The median salary of lecturers rose by 23.40% over the time period, while senior lecturers saw a 16.77% increase. Assistant professors’ salaries grew by 23.99%, while associate professors saw 26.94% growth and professors saw 21.88% growth.
Distinguished senior lecturers, from 2017 to 2022, saw a 25.48% increase in their median salaries.
In contrast, Paxson’s total compensation in 2021 was 113% higher than it was in 2014, though Clark noted that her 2022 compensation is a decrease of about 14% from her 2021 figure.
Paxson’s base compensation, which does not include deferred compensation, was $1,068,875 in 2021, 57% higher than her 2014 base compensation. Clark did not provide a number for 2022 base compensation at press time.
Multiple faculty have publicly expressed dissatisfaction surrounding their compensation packages. Last April, Brown’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors hosted an independent analyst who claimed that the University could afford significant increases to faculty pay and benefits, despite alleged administrator communications claiming otherwise.
Professor and Chair of German Studies Kristina Mendicino, who serves as president of Brown’s AAUP chapter, said many of her colleagues worry that increases to their compensation — determined by factors like academic output — will not “be keeping up with inflation, and keeping up with the cost of living as it rises in the city of Providence and elsewhere.”
The process of distributing yearly salary increases also tends to shortchange some high-performing faculty, Mendicino said. While the University announced a 4% salary increase pool in February — representing the second-largest increase in 12 years, Clark noted — individual faculty do not automatically receive a 4% raise. Instead, funds are allocated to departments, which then conduct performance reviews to determine the salary increases that individual faculty will receive.
“If everybody in the department published a book, the pool is not going to be bigger” automatically, Mendicino said. “Chairs can argue to have more funds allocated to appropriately compensate their faculty, but you have to argue for it, and the resources are still limited.”
“At the end of the day, if everybody does a lot of research, does really well and still is teaching, then everybody financially does worse” since the total funds available do not change, she added.
“In the last few years alone, billions … have been added to the Brown endowment, so Brown is as wealthy as it has ever been in its history,” added Professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature Gerhard Richter, who is vice president of Brown’s AAUP. “But that’s not reflected in its values and in its commitment to the welfare of faculty.”
Last spring, 218 faculty signed a petition requesting automatic cost-of-living adjustments for all faculty, Mendicino said. If adopted, all faculty would receive a yearly base compensation increase to account for inflation and other broader economic pressures.
A copy of the petition obtained by The Herald also calls on the University to pay faculty retirement contributions that were withheld during the pandemic.
“The time has come for the senior administration to send a strong signal that faculty contributions to our institution are valued,” the petition reads. “Repaying withheld contributions to faculty retirement accounts and implementing a cost-of-living adjustment for faculty salaries will reaffirm the commitment of the administration to the mission of our university.”
Paxson subsequently formed a task force to investigate faculty compensation. The task force, which comprises 10 faculty and administrators, has not released their findings publicly.
Senior administrator compensation and faculty salaries are determined separately.
“Compensation for senior administrators is generally market-and performance-driven and based on industry standards to provide a competitive combination of salary and benefits that recognize an individual’s portfolio of responsibilities, sustained performance and, to some extent, length of employment,” Clark wrote in an email to The Herald.
Mendicino does not necessarily oppose high administrator salaries. “I have no aspiration to earn something comparable to an administrator,” she said. Instead, she cited the lack of cost-of-living guarantees — as well as the shortcomings of the faculty compensation structure in rewarding high-performing faculty in similarly high-performing departments — as concerns distinct from the subject of administrator compensation.
Richter added that there is “widespread dissatisfaction among faculty with the job that the administration is doing when it comes to valuing faculty.”
“This really needs to be addressed,” he said.
Charlie Clynes is a University News editor covering University Hall and graduate schools. He is a junior concentrating in History and Applied Math.
Neil Mehta is a University News section editor and design chief at The Herald. They study public health and statistics at Brown. Outside the office, you can find Neil baking and playing Tetris.