At SDSU, Laurie Stenberg Nichols has been making $251,000 a year. She’s leaving to preside over the University of Wyoming, which will pay her a base salary of $350,000, plus a please-stay-in-Laramie payment of $25,000.
That’s a nice step up for Dr. Stenberg Nichols, but it’s a slight step back from what she could have gotten if she had stuck around to angle for SDSU President David Chicoine’s job, which currently pays $365,204. It’s a lower salary than the president she replaces, former oil executive Dick McGinity. It’s much less than the guy before that, Bob Sternberg, received as a severance package after he quit after just five months on top of pay and benefits that beat Nichols’s contact.
The Casper Star Tribune notes that Wyoming is ten cents worse than the rest of the nation in gender-pay inequity. But incoming President Nichols isn’t complaining:
The comparative salaries of former presidents was not Nichols’ concern, she said.
“I would just say that I’m very pleased with the offer,” Nichols said. “I think it’s a very competitive offer, regardless of what was paid before me” [Heather Richards, “New UW President Will Be Paid Far Less than Sternberg,” Casper Star Tribune, 2015.12.23].
The UW Board of Trustees assures us they aren’t stiffing Nichols’s ladyship:
The UW board of trustees chose Nichols on Friday from a pool of three finalists. The board used a committee to set salary and compensation parameters, based on comparable institutions in other states, before the finalists were chosen, said board member Michelle Sullivan.
“This was before we brought anybody in,” she said. “We tried to really be systematic, to make sure all the trustees were comfortable ahead of time so there were no surprises” [Richards, 2015.12.23].
R.C. Johnson, president of the Wyoming AAUW, says these ladies ought to be a bit crankier:
Johnson also questioned how the committee decided on the comparable pay rate.
“Even if they had that comparison from across states to decide that you are going to offer the lower-paid package to this woman, they ought to be paying her more, because she is going to have to go up against some pretty heady opposition as she moves forward in this state,” she said [Richards, 2015.12.23].
…while UW economist Anne Alexander (who also happens to be a lady) shrugs off the difference:
“What she was making as provost, (at South Dakota State University), that’s probably more her baseline,” Alexander said. “I’m sure she did her homework too, to figure out what UW normally pays its president.”
Land-grant universities like UW often have lower salaries than their private counterparts, she added [Richards, 2015.12.23].
We can debate whether Nichols is getting a bum deal (though you’d have to pay me more than $350,000 to get me to trade South Dakota for Wyoming). But I suspect that Wyoming could afford a little more for their university president. They run one university, in Laramie. They pay one president at that land grant university. South Dakota has one land grant university and pays its president $15K more in base salary than Wyoming will pay Nichols. But South Dakota has five other Regental campuses, each with its own president. Where Wyoming pays one top higher education executive $350,000, we pay six higher ed chiefs $1.8 million. Hmm… appoint one superintendent for the entire Regental system, lop off the heads at each campus, appoint the VPs Academic as campus principals, and we might save over a million dollars, or $50 per student.
Or Wyoming could offer a presidential candidate from South Dakota $500,000 and still be enjoying a huge advantage in administrative overhead over its easterly neighbor.