When University of Texas System officials announced last month that Gregory Fenves would be the next president of the Austin campus at a base salary of $750,000 a year, they left out a footnote: Fenves turned down their offer of a $1 million paycheck.
That would be “too high for a public university,” Fenves wrote in an email obtained by the American-Statesman through an open-records request to UT-Austin. He warned that a million-dollar salary might not play well politically.
“With many issues and concerns about administrative costs, affordability and tuition, such a salary will affect the ability of the president to work with the Texas Legislature on matters important to the university,” Fenves told Pedro Reyes, the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. He also said it would prompt “widespread negative attention from students and faculty given the difficult budgetary constraints of the past five years.”
Fenves requested, and will get, base pay $250,000 less than what was offered, making him an outlier in a field where salaries have been pushing north of seven figures. He also asked that his annual bonus, which is dependent on a performance evaluation, be capped at 10 percent of base salary rather than the 12 percent listed in a proposed term sheet sent to him a few days before he and two other candidates for the job were interviewed by the UT System Board of Regents.
The board is expected to formally approve Fenves’ compensation package Thursday. With $50,000 in deferred pay, his total compensation comes to $800,000 a year, not counting any bonus pay. Fenves assumes office June 3, succeeding Bill Powers, whose compensation totaled $668,190, including base pay of $624,350.
More and more public university presidents are getting million-dollar-plus pay packages, including in Texas.
Michael Young, who became president of Texas A&M University on May 1, is the state’s highest-paid leader of a public academic institution, with total annual compensation of $1.4 million, including $1 million in base salary. When Young was named sole finalist for the post in February, A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said he “probably won’t make what an assistant football coach makes, but he’ll be paid darn well.”
Renu Khator, who is chancellor of the University of Houston as well as president of its main campus, receives total compensation of $1.1 million.
The UT System also has been generous to its executives.
Mark Houser, who became CEO of the system’s West Texas oil lands in March, gets a base salary of $700,000, a retention payment of $350,000 if he stays on the job and a bonus that could be as much as $1.4 million depending on his performance evaluation — all told, as much as $2.45 million a year.
Bill McRaven, who became the system’s chancellor in January, receives $1.2 million in salary and $400,000 in deferred compensation, with the possibility of bonuses. The system also pays some leaders of its health institutions more than $1 million.
The UT System presumably offered a $1 million base salary to the two other candidates for the UT-Austin presidency interviewed by the regents, Andrew Hamilton and David Daniel. The precise terms and the candidates’ responses couldn’t be determined because the system has asked the state attorney general’s office for permission to withhold copies of correspondence requested by the Statesman.
Hamilton, currently the University of Oxford’s senior officer, will become president of New York University in January. Daniel, president of UT-Dallas, will become the UT System’s deputy chancellor, a new position, July 1. Daniel’s pay, which is expected to be approved by the regents Thursday, will be $725,000, and he will also get a one-time payment of $150,000 to cover moving and transitional living expenses.
On other matters, the regents are expected Thursday to:
- Approve a $166.4 million plan to build graduate student housing, a parking garage and a tennis center for UT-Austin just east of Interstate 35.
- Receive recommendations on admissions practices from a panel of former UT-Austin and UT System leaders.
- Authorize the sale of O. Henry Hall in downtown Austin to the Texas State University System for administrative offices. The UT System, which is building a new headquarters, is expected to vacate O. Henry in 2017.
- Adopt a rule to discipline employees and sanction regents who violate the confidentiality of the search for a campus president. This was apparently prompted by leaks in the search for Powers’ replacement.
- Adopt a rule requiring regents to comply with systemwide policies on retaining and releasing records; a rule requiring that a regent’s request for information must identify the specific need for the information; and a rule declaring that regents are expected to use UT System email addresses for public business.