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Downs Out: Northern Needs New President

Northern State University President Timothy Downs will not get to throw out the first ball at the new Dacotah Bank Stadium next fall. The Board of Regents announced yesterday that Downs is resigning from the NSU presidency “to pursue a new opportunity in higher education.”

Whatever that new opportunity, it must be coming up fast. Downs appears to be out immediately: the Aberdeen American News reports behind its paywall that VP for finance and administration Veronica Paulson “has been appointed acting president.”

Northern currently offers the lowest presidential pay of the six public university campi in South Dakota:

Title Salary
Dean, Sanford School of Medicine $600,000.00
State Investment Officer ** $495,687.36
President, South Dakota State University * $390,948.00
President, University of South Dakota * $390,948.00
President, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology * $358,176.00
Executive Director, Board of Regents $320,000.00
President, Dakota State University * $287,000.00
President, Black Hills State University * $270,000.00
President, Northern State University * $260,852.00
Superintendent, South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired $183,348.00
* Housing provided     **Including performance bonuses

Nonetheless, the NSU presidency is among the top ten best paying state jobs in South Dakota and the last state executive position above $200K. Downs was making more than twice as much as the Governor (and doing at least twice as much actual work for South Dakota, so, fair’s fair). Like the Governor, our university presidents also get housing on our tab.

So if you’ve got management and legislator-butt-kissing chops and can settle for a salary under $300K, Northern has a spot for you!


  1. Mark Anderson 2021-04-17 09:13

    It’s easy to see why universities are using more and more adjuncts to teach, they live in poverty while the upper staff make out like bandits. The American way of course. Unionization would help.

  2. John 2021-04-17 10:23

    Those public salaries are outrageous. None of those people or positions are worth more than any US president, senator, or general officer.
    South Dakota has no legislative oversight.

  3. David Newquist 2021-04-17 13:10

    Customarily, when a resignation is submitted for a new opportunity, the new opportunity is mentioned. When a resignation is immediate and there is no new opportunity is specified, the only opportunity was most likely to resign. Living near the campus, I am familiar with those tectonic tremors from when regental politics and academics are grating together. One is lead to conjecture about this resignation being preceded by the reappointment to the regents of a known political operative by our governor, La Belle Dame Sans Merci and Braincells. And the person appointed to tend to any interim turmoil is a bean counter who seems to regard academics as a nuisance. Looks like NSU is headed for some uncertainty–again.

  4. grudznick 2021-04-17 19:30

    Mr. Newquist, in this case when the Regents are concerned, I expect that you will find that soon The Dark Lord Cthulhu will be overseeing the Northern State Teachers College.

    Academics is a nuisance.

  5. Porter Lansing 2021-04-17 19:31

    Chicken feed.
    Head football coach at CU Boulder gets $2.4 million
    It’s always fun to have a few with my retired professor friends and discuss college sports coach salaries.
    I love when highly educated people get pissed and let it out, to a civilian like me.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-04-18 06:50

    David, maybe Governor Noem is getting ready to bring Joop Bollen back to campus and help her make some money off foreign investors.

    But seriously, what initiative might the new Regent be bringing to the Aberdeen campus that required a change in management? Was Downs less pliable than other campus presidents?

  7. David Newquist 2021-04-18 11:22

    The regental-president relationships shift. During an unusual time in a presidential search, we had candidates invited to faculty homes to chat with groups of faculty away from regental supervision. In such a meeting at my home, a candidate told the assembled faculty that he was informing the search committee that he was withdrawing his candidacy because it became clear to him that the board was looking for someone to carry out its agenda, not a president who would act as a lead scholar. The man we ended up could not reconcile the regental agenda with faculty questions. I don’t know any specifics about Downs’ relationship with the regents other than what was a clear dismissal in his immediate departure, and this strange paragraph in the report on his resignation:
    “The past months at Northern have been difficult at times. The university first announced it was moving away from using Gypsy Days as the name of its annual homecoming celebration, then reversed course after hearing from stakeholders. And Downs and the university were criticized by some for issuing a statement of support for Black members of the men’s basketball team who chose to kneel during the national anthem.”

    As for Tony Venhuizen being moved from a chief of staff to a regent, that, too, is strange. A regent is not a full-time job. I cannot readily find the compensation for regents, but I am sure it is nowhere near that of chief of staff. Perhaps, it is an indication of Noem’s disaffection. On the other hand, it might be part of Noem’s obsession with exercising power as she sees it from her feeble perspective. Sometimes the regents dutifully carry out the wishes of the person who appoints them. On rare occasions they act as a buffer,

  8. Mark Anderson 2021-04-18 18:24

    Grudz you could turn that last sentence into haiku very easily, academically speaking of course.

  9. grudznick 2021-04-18 19:15

    Academics suck
    Fatcat Administrators
    ride the gravy train

  10. grudznick 2021-04-18 19:24

    Mr. Newquist, the Regents get a daily pittance, or what they call “per cotidianam stipem,” to attend each meeting plus a generous expense allowance. I expect young Mr. Venhuizen is moving on to something else more lucrative and his Regentalship is but a way for him to continue to manipulate the system. Mark grudznick’s words down here in your brains: no good will come from this.

  11. DaveFN 2021-04-18 21:34

    These South Dakota university president salaries are indeed exorbitant and it hasn’t always been so. Any new, incoming president in SD inherits a pretty much turn-key organization with a strata of VPs, assistant VPs, deans, department heads hierarchy ready-made with virtually no administrative duties required on the part of the new president. Supposedly the latter is to pursue fund-raising for the university, but the fact is that those who would endow chairs, buildings, etc. are preconditioned to do so by motives other than anything a university president would be able to effect. What are we left with? A figurehead position, sometimes retirement in situ, layering a pension on top of other pensions previously acquired.

    As far as unions, Mark Anderson, the SDBOR chipped away on the union for decades, subsuming negotiated agreements into its own policy manual, ultimately leading to union demise. The union once provided valuable oversight on faculty member matters of gender pay equity, time in rank equity, and other watchdog duties. What goes on now has no such oversight and is not in anyway refereed nor transparent.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-04-19 05:53

    David, I don’t think the Venhuizen move has anything to do with money. He’s probably making a ton more as a trust lawyer in Sioux Falls, helping hide rich outsiders’ money. Every work week he had to spend trying to keep order on the Second Floor was a week he didn’t get to make bank on trust agreements. Dropping his state commitment to the monthly Regental meetings will leave Venhuizen much more time for lawyering.

    DaveFN: exorbitant? The University of Southern California pays its exec over $7M. Harvard’s chief gets $3.6M. Private university presidents average $608K, while public university presidents average compensation (including housing and other benefits) of $544K.

    South Dakota offers every worker a pay cut, including university presidents.

  13. DaveFN 2021-04-19 17:59


    The average salaries such as you cite paint with too broad a brush, and I suggest the median rather than the mean salaries are a better place to begin for comparison. And even they must be further broken down. As of 2019-2020:

    (1) Public institutions
    a. Doctoral: median university president salary $495,813
    b. Masters: $294,583
    c. Baccalaureate: $250,000
    (2) Private institutions:
    a. Doctoral: median university president salary $250,000
    b. Masters: $420,240
    c. Baccalaureate: $410,000

    But an even more nuanced breakdown by the Carnegie system for research universities is necessary:

    (1) R1 Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity. South Dakota has no universities in this category.
    (2) R2: Doctoral Universities – High research activity. SDSU and USD are in this category.

    (I don’t know where the “Open SD South Dakota Transparency Website” gets its figures but they don’t correlate with specific figures in The Chronicle of Higher Education).

    (1) USD’s Abbott (1997-2018) ended at a base salary $278,407, with non-taxable benefits of $22,079, and other compensation of $55,000 (total compensation $355,486).
    His pay per $1 million in institutional expenses was $1,625, way above the national median.

    Sheila K. Gestring (began 2018) has a base of $348,833 with non-taxable benefits of $9,353 (total compensation $$358,186). Her pay per $1 million in institution’s expenses is $1,688, way above the national median.

    (2) SDSU’s Chicoine (out in 2016) had base $334,770 with non-taxable benefits of $6,411 and other pay of $63,543 (total compensation $404,724).

    Chicoine’s pay per $1 million in institutional expenditures was $1,443 (above the national median), his pay-to-tuition rate was 50:1 (above the national median), and the ratio of his total compensation to faculty salary was 4:1 (above the national median).

    Barry H. Dunn’s base pay of $378,243 and non-taxable benefits of $17,576 (total compensation $396,104). His pay per $1 million in institution’s expenses: $1,320, above the national median.

    (3) Compare with UND, a Carnegie R2 institution as is USD and SDSU:

    Robert O. Kelley: (2008-2016) end total compensation $219,053; pay per $1 million in institution’s expenses: $496, pay-to-tuition ratio 28:1 (below national median); ratio of total compensation to faculty salary: 3:1 (below median).

    (4) Compare with UWyo, also a Carnegie R2 university:

    Richard C. McGinity (2014-2016): end compensation $382,687 with pay per $1 million in institutional expenditures of $763.

    (5) Compare with UMinn, a Carnegie R1 university:

    Joan T.A. Gabel (new): $342,270 total compensation with pay per $1 million in institutional expenditures of $99.

    (Admittedly, with the above some of the figures are older as newer presidents have only recently been hired, were hired for 6 months only, etc).

    But there’s more, if one factors in university rankings. See US News Best College data, based on multiple factors mapped to The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education’s Basic Classification system. Best College rankings:

    (a) SDSU: #284 in national university rankings out of a total of 389, ie., 64th from the top out of 100.
    (b) USD: #249 in national university rankings out of a total of 389, ie., 73rd from the top out of 100.
    (c) BHSU: #119-156 out of a total of regional midwest university rankings out of a total of 157, ie., 76th to 99th from the top out of 100.

    Norming salaries to average salaries alone doesn’t begin to address the complexity of the matter, and one needs drill down much further and analyze multiple factors including Carnegie R1 and R2 institutional classifications as a function of salary, pay as percentage of institutional expenses, ratio of pay to faculty salaries and tuition, as well as overall university ratings within the nation. Is the SDBOR transparent enough to give us their full analysis of salary determination?

  14. DaveFN 2021-04-19 18:01

    Correction in the above:

    (2) Private institutions:
    a. Doctoral: median university president salary $787,000

  15. David Newquist 2021-04-20 08:56



    Gov. Kristi Noem announced in a statement Monday that she is appointing two new regents to the South Dakota Board of Regents.

    South Dakota Sen. Jeff Partridge and former state representative Tim Rave will join the SDBOR for six-year terms continuing through March 31, 2027.

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