Amid search for candidates, TSU faces large gap in president's salary

Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 10:05pm

The search is on.

After more than 18 months under the direction of interim president Dr. Portia Shields, Tennessee State University is on the hunt for a permanent leader.

Last week, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan told the TBR committee chairs that search firm Greenwood/Asher had already started to identify potential presidential candidates. The job will be posted with the Chronicle of Higher Education after July 4, then a search committee will be formed in August. The hope is to have a new president take over for Shields on Jan. 1.

At the same meeting, TBR Vice Chancellor for Business and Administration Dale Sims presented the board with findings about the school system’s salaries for university presidents. The picture wasn’t pretty.

According to Sims, the TBR has a double-digit percentage gap between the current presidents’ salaries and 90 percent of the market value for similarly situated presidents. (Sims said the system uses the 90 percent figure because it’s consistent with past packages and has room for advancement.)

And TSU has one of the larger gaps. TSU’s presidential salary of $235,735 was a whopping 21.7 percent off 90 percent of market value. Judging by those figures, the target salary of the TSU president job would be slightly above $300,000, a more than $60,000 gap.

Regent Robert Thomas, an attorney from Nashville, expressed concern about the discrepancy at the meeting, noting that several other historically black colleges and universities were also engaged in presidential searches.

“It’s going to be a very competitive market,” Thomas said. “I’m very concerned if we don’t have a competitive salary for Tennessee State, then we’re not going to get the person we need.”

The City Paper examined media reports and public records to see how TSU’s proposed salary stacks up.

Jackson State — which faces TSU in the annual Southern Heritage Classic football game every year — is a comparable institution. Based in Jackson, Miss., JSU is another historically black university, with roughly the same enrollment as TSU, of approximately 9,000 students.

However, JSU president Carolyn Meyers makes about $270,500 — about $35,000 more than the TSU president’s salary. Meyers formerly served as president at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va. NSU president Tony Atwater pulls in $295,000 each year.

In another football connection, Kentucky State University President Mary Sias makes $240,000 per year. But even though TSU and KSU once battled for the Little Brown Jug on the gridiron, TSU currently has roughly 6,000 more students than KSU.

The City Paper found that the TSU job is still more lucrative than other historically black schools like Alcorn State University in Mississippi and Alabama State University.

In April, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Marybeth Gasman wrote an article about the large number of president vacancies at historically black colleges and universities. She pointed out that 16 HBCUs had openings, more than 10 percent of the nation’s 101 accredited HBCUs.

Schools like Central State University in Ohio and Bethune-Cookman University in Florida have filled vacancies over the past six months. But some of TSU’s direct competition could come from its own backyard.

Fisk University, just a short jaunt down Jefferson Street from TSU, is also looking for it’s next president. According to the school’s 2010 tax filings, president Hazel O’Leary earned nearly $232,000. However, Fisk is still under the shroud of probation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation due to financial shortcomings. TSU earned a 10-year accreditation from SACS last December.

Both schools hope to name presidents by Jan. 1.

While the TBR’s statistics show that the TSU job is well below the market rate for a comparable college president, the board has yet to decide whether to boost that salary. The board’s Compensation and Personnel Committee will vote later this month on whether to approve a plan that brings college presidents and central office staffers up to 90 percent of the market rate for their jobs. The plan will be the first payment change for top administrators since 2007.

However, the plan isn’t binding — and presidential pay will be determined on a school-by-school basis by the regents.

“If they adopt that plan at the June meeting, they’ll be adopting a structure for president’s compensation, then there will be discussion,” Sims said. “If this plan means an ‘X’ percent increase for this president, is that something we think is advisable that we do right now?”

For instance, if a president is 15 percent off the target salary, the board may vote to give the president a five percent increase during each of the next three years, Sims said. As for prospective presidents, TBR chancellor Morgan will make a salary recommendation that the board typically approves.

“One of the challenges the chancellor and the members have when we have a president retire or accept employment elsewhere is we’ve got to go out into the market and bring a president in,” Sims said. “You’ve got to be paying something close to market rate if you want to attract a quality pool of candidates.”

3 Comments on this post:

By: PillowTalk4 on 6/18/12 at 9:28

I'd rather see the salary of TSU's president and administration be in line with those of other TBR institutions than to concentrate on other HBCU's. TSU isn't only competing against HBCU's for qualified talented leaders. It's competing against APSU, ETSU, MTSU, TN Tech, Memphis, not to mention other universites within the region from Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisianna, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky. Even Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri factor in. If the State of TN is serious about hiring the best qualified person to lead TSU or any of its universities, then they need to be competitive with the market. If I recall, when Dr. Johnson was hired as the President of TSU, he was third or fourth on the list of finalist. The top candidate who was already in a leadership role in I believe the Illinois State system turned down the position once he discovered the starting salary offer. That should have been a sign that the State of TN was not being competitive when it comes to the salaries of its university presidents. TSU lost its best candidate and possibly the leader that it needed to advance the university over the past 5-6 years. TSU now has an interim president who has establised a pretty good foundation to build upon. The State of TN will do TSU and the State an injustice if a competiive salary is not offered and risk losing out the best of the best.

Don't concentrate on the HBCU aspect. Concentrate on hiring the absolute best candidate to lead and grow TSU. Whether you like TSU or not, the university plays a vital role to the economy of Nashville and the State of TN. There is so much opportunity to grow TSU, which will in turn benefit the entire Nashville region. After 100 years TSU is till a diamond in the rough so to speak. It's time to allow this school to really grow and shine. Hire a president at TSU that can work every penny that is allocated and knows how to increase funds through private and public grants. TSU will always be an HBCU. But it shouldn't be limited or constrained because of it being an HBCU.

By: yucchhii on 6/18/12 at 1:23

How about they just get minimum wage and bust their ass to get what they need like the rest of us!!

By: elcid89tn on 6/18/12 at 2:47

Well written PillowTalk4.