The college football coach makes HOW much?

Survey reveals jaw-dropping salaries at US private universities — but U.S. presidential salaries not out of line with those in Canada

A study of compensation at U.S. private universities, compiled by The Chronicle of Higher Education, shows that many of the highest paid people in American academia are not university presidents.

In the number one spot: The football coach at the University of Southern California, Pete Carroll, who made US$4.4 million in 2007. Second place went to David Silvers, a dematology professor at Columbia University’s medical school, was was paid US$4.3 million. And seven of the eight remaining spots in the top 10 were held by medical school professors and administrators; the only exception is David Swensen, who manages the money in Yale University’s endowment. He was paid US$3.1 million.

In fact, no president of a private American university comes close to cracking the top 10. Only one president made more than US$1 million: Nicholas Zeppos of Vanderbilt. In second place is Ron Daniels, a Canadian (and former dean of the University of Toronto law school) who is earning US$605,000 as the new president of the University of Pennsylvania.

That the highest university salaries are going to top medical researchers is not surprising, given what top U.S. medical specialists can earn in private practice. The shock is just how high, high is. The Chronicle found 46 medical faculty and administrators earning more than $1 million. Based on what we know about pay at Canadian universities (see Maclean’s OnCampus coverage, and Ontario’s salary disclosure of all public employees making over $100K, the only such comprehensive public sector salary disclosure available), no Canadian university can come close to competing with the Brink’s trucks filled with cash being given to the most super of U.S. medical superstars. Leaving senior university administrators aside, there are almost no Ontario professors making more than $300,000 — let alone the $2 million, $3 million and $4 million the Chronicle found a small number of super-superstars taking home in the U.S.

(One caveat: perhaps because of the corporate structure of U.S. university hospitals, doctors who in Canada may be counted as hospital employees are apparently south of the border sometimes counted as university employees, of a university-run hospital. And if we look at hospital salaries in Canada, there are a number of senior hospital officials and doctors earning salaries that, at a university, would be chart-topping. For example, the president and CEO of Toronto’s University Health Network, which oversees several (U of T teaching) hospitals, was paid $836,000 last year. And there are a number of Ontario hospital-based physicians on the list making more than $300,000 or even $400,000.)

And unlike the U.S., when it comes to university sports, Canadian coaches are not among the pay elite. In Ontario, the list of university employees earning more than $100,000 runs to 189 pages of tiny type—but it includes the names of only four coaches. The most highly compensated, at $133,000 a year, is the University of Western Ontario football coach.

The big surprise is that, while a small number of U.S. academic super duper stars — especially in sports and medicine — are earning far more than their Canadian counterparts, there does not appear to be a pay disparity between Canadian and U.S. university presidents. There may have been a gap once upon a time, but Canadian presidential and senior executive salaries have risen substantially over the past decade. According to the Chronicle, the average compensation of the president a private U.S. university classified as a “research” university was US$310,000. How does that compare to Canada? Most Ontario presidents are earning more.

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