The Corner

Former Senator Kerrey Was Best-Compensated University President

The Chronicle of Higher Education has released its annual analysis of executive compensation at private colleges and universities. It found that in 2010, the most recent year for which data are fully available, median compensation for school presidents was up by 2.8 percentage points, though median base pay fell. Bob Kerrey topped the list; he received a total compensation package of over $3 million from the New School in New York.

Kerrey, a former Democratic Nebraska governor and U.S. senator who was recently defeated in the Nebraska Senate race by Deb Fischer, took flak during the campaign when his generous earnings were first disclosed. He received a $1.2 million “retention bonus” after announcing in 2009 that he planned to retire, in addition to $620,000 in deferred compensation on top of his $600,000 base salary. He also secured a salary of half a million dollars to continue serving as president emeritus through 2016.  

Kerrey’s career trajectory shows that there are many paths to gainful post-Senate employment, but they inevitably run back towards Washington. While his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and his experience as an owner of a Nebraska chain of restaurants and health clubs would be unlikely qualifications for leading a major university, his experience inside the Beltway proved to be rather useful to the New School. According to the Omaha World-Herald:

Kerrey pursued many avenues to build up the school, from soliciting wealthy donors to tapping the federal government.

The university started aggressively lobbying Washington, spending hundreds of thousands a year on lobbyists and seeking earmarks. . . . .

The school landed millions in federal money through contracts, grants and earmarks, including a $2 million earmark in 2008 for [a new] building on Fifth Avenue.

Kerrey has supplemented his income since leaving the Senate by serving on several corporate boards and offering “advice” to others. He received annual payments ranging from $10,000 to $965,000 for this work, bringing his total earnings in 2011 and the beginning of 2012 to just under $4 million. 

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