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In Virginia, 80 percent of the highest-paid public employees are in higher education

Six-figure salaries for deans, directors, vice presidents

Nearly 80 percent of the highest paid state employees in the state of Virginia are public university staffers. Those individuals all pull down significant six-figure salaries, with one making over a million dollars per year.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch was able to obtain state employees’ salaries through the state’s Freedom of Information statute. The paper found that 19 of the top 25 highest-paid employees in the state are employed at public institutions of higher education.

According to the data, the top earner, Michael Rao, the president of Virginia Commonwealth University, is paid over $1 million annually. Nine of the salary earners hold positions at the University of Virginia, one of the state’s most prestigious public universities. The president of that university makes over $960,000 per year; the school’s chair of the department of surgery makes nearly $630,000.

Three of the staffers on the list work at Virginia Tech. That school’s vice president for advancement makes over $676,000 per year.

Tracy Vosburgh, a campus spokeswoman for Virginia Tech, defended those high salaries, stating that Virginia Tech is an “academically rigorous Research One Institution” and is “the land grant for the Commonwealth” that “strive[s] to have salaries that are competitive with our peers to attract and retain the best.”

“This list shows that Virginia Tech has attracted among the nation’s best in a few key positions at the highest level. The leadership at Virginia Tech has played a key role in the growth and economic stability of Roanoke and the region, the successful bid to bring Amazon and vital job growth to Northern Virginia and has positioned the university and the region in a strong position to educate and prepare the next generation in Virginia,” Vosburgh told The College Fix.

Laura Osberger, a spokeswoman for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, offered a defense of the high salaries of the leaders of colleges and universities.

“College presidents manage multi-million and sometimes billion-dollar enterprises that affect the lives of thousands of people. Thus, college and university compensation is a factor of a competitive market and complex work. In Virginia, the Boards of Visitors of our public higher education institutions negotiate the compensation packages of presidents,” Osberger told The Fix via email.

“We know that universities also compete for top faculty, particularly in areas where they can bring high amounts of research funding to the institutions,” she added, citing a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education listing the salaries of numerous university presidents from around the country. Some are significantly higher than Rao’s. William McRaven, the president of the University of Texas system, makes over two and a half million dollars per year.

That list also shows how steeply such salaries can rise in a relatively short period of time. Rao’s salary in the 2009-2010 fiscal year was listed as $488,500. Since then his pay has increased by nearly 110 percent.

Vosburgh said of Virginia’s university leaders that “both market and peer review would show [the] salaries are appropriate.”

“This list…shows that Virginia is striving to be competitive in attracting the countries best to serve the needs of the Commonwealth,” she said, adding: “We are appreciative of the support we receive from the Commonwealth. Virginia has a long standing reputation for education excellence.”

Representatives from numerous other schools represented on the list, including Old Dominion University and the University of Virginia, did not respond to requests for comment. At ODU, school football coach Bobby Wilder makes well over half a million dollars. Carla Williams, the athletic director of the University of Virginia, makes nearly $570,000 per year.

MORE: Amid rising tuition, VCU’s president among highest-paid in country

MORE: At UT Austin, diversity staffers cost $9.5M annually

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About the Author
Ema Gavrilovic -- DePaul University