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In Wisconsin, 70 percent of the highest-earning public employees work for the state university system

Fifty UW-Madison professors make over $300,000 per year

Of the 100 top-earning state employees in Wisconsin in 2018, the vast majority worked for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as a few at UW-Milwaukee, according to an analysis conducted by The College Fix. 

According to a list generated by The Fix using public state employee salary information maintained by the Green Bay Press Gazette and Wisconsin State Journal newspapers, 50 UW-Madison professors and assistant professors made over $300,000 in gross pay in the 2018 school year. Topping the salary list for professors at the public university was economics professor and dean of the department Ananth Seshadri, who made $537,000 in 2018.

Seshadri’s salary was higher than the president of the UW system, Raymond Cross ($525,000), and the chancellor of UW-Madison, Rebecca Blank ($500,000).

The most highly paid professors clustered primarily around financial-related fields. Of the 50 professors making more than $300,000 per year, 78 percent were instructors in a finance-related field (finance, economics, administration, real estate, accounting, marketing, management). Of these professors, 15 taught economics and seven taught finance.

In addition to professors, UW-Madison also employed seven deans that made over $300,000, led by former Business School Dean Barry Gerhart, who made $460,000. Law School Dean Margaret Raymond was paid $389,000, while former Dean of the College of Letters and Science John Scholz earned $388,000.

At the school, four vice-chancellors were paid over $300,000, led by Provost and Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs Sarah Mangelsdorf at $433,000. Mangelsdorf recently left to become president of the University of Rochester in New York.

“While UW–Madison does have a small number of faculty in that salary range, our average salaries continue to lag behind our Big Ten and national peers, which hurts our ability to attract and retain the best faculty,” said university spokesperson Meredith McGlone in an e-mail to The Fix.

As is typical in states with large Division I sports programs, the seven most highly paid university employees in Wisconsin were tied to athletics, with football coach Paul Chryst earning nearly $3.8 million and men’s basketball coach Greg Gard earning $2.4 million. Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, who once coached the football team, made $1.2 million in 2018. Coaches’ salaries are largely funded by the University of Wisconsin Foundation, which accepts donations from alumni and other supporters.

UW system spokesman Mark Pitsch said salaries are determined using “market-based benchmarks.”

“Coaches and leadership largely populate the list, and faculty cited are in business, health care, and science, where salaries are higher in the private sector,” Pitsch said.

Other College Fix analyses have found states with a higher proportion of university employees among their highest-paid workers. In Virginia, for instance, 80 percent of the highest-earning state workers are in higher education. In 2018, 199 of Arizona’s 200 top-earning public workers were in higher education.

The lower proportion in Wisconsin is primarily due to the presence of the State of Wisconsin Investment Board, which supervises the investment of over $100 billion for retirement and other public programs. Of the state’s top 100 public sector earners, 26 work for the investment board, with Chief Investment Officer David Villa earning $963,000 in 2018.

A SWIB spokesperson explained that many states outsource management of their investments to Wall Street firms, while Wisconsin handles their own funds in-house. Consequently, other states’ money managers are not listed as state employees, as they are technically contractors – even if another state is paying the contractors more money to manage their funds. Further, few states have departments that manage so many local and state funds in one department.

Together, the investment board and the university system claim 96 of the 100 top-earning state employees.

Taxpayer funding for the University of Wisconsin system has held stable over the past decade at about $1.1 billion per year, while tuition revenue over that time has increased from $981 million in 2009 to $1.6 billion in 2019 – an annual increase of 4.6 percent.

In 2017-18, the UW system employed 32,490 faculty and staff members, along with 3,124 student assistants. Of the faculty, 41.1 percent are full professors, 30 percent are associate professors, and 28.2 percent are assistant professors. In 2018, the average salary for a full-time professor at the UW-Madison was $136,200.

According to a report by the State Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 22.5 percent of the entire 2018-19 UW system budget was allocated to instruction, while 17.4 percent was dedicated to research.

The remainder of the budget is spent on categories including “Student Services,” which includes “all activities whose primary purpose is to contribute to the emotional and physical well-being of students and their intellectual, cultural, and social development outside of formal instruction.”

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About the Author
Senior Reporter
Christian focuses on investigative, enterprise and analysis reporting. He is the author of "1916: The Blog" and has spent time as a political columnist at USA Today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and National Review Online. His op-eds have been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Post, City Journal, Weekly Standard and National Review. He has also been a frequent guest on political television and radio shows. He holds a master’s degree in political science from Marquette University and lives in Madison, Wisconsin.