Sargent among highest paid college presidents – again

Article By: Jeff Fish

Suffolk University President David Sargent made national headlines again this year by earning $1.5 million, making him the second highest paid university president in the country, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Sargent was number one on the list last year, earning $2.8 million.

Once again, Sargent’s salary has garnered criticism from members of the Suffolk community.

“From what I know, [President Sargent] is making all this money and there are still students out there who are struggling, working two or three jobs, and whose financial needs aren’t met,” said freshman, Vanessa Afogho.

“I think that seems pretty high,” said Maliny Penn, 2010. “I don’t know what college presidents usually make, but that sounds like a lot. I mean, the President of the U.S. only makes $400,000 a year.”

In a campus-wide email, Board of Trustees Chairman Nicholas Macaronis sought to “clarify details of President Sargent’s compensation package, in the hope of better providing an understanding following recent media accounts.”

In the email, Macaronis broke down the numbers that comprise Sargent’s salary and defended it by saying, “President Sargent’s vision over the past two decades has been instrumental in the transformation of the University from a small commuter school to an international institution offering undergraduate and graduate programs in more than 90 areas of study.”

“He’s been serving for over fifty years. It’s worth every penny,” said junior Pavli Permeti.

The 2008 report from the Chronicle of Higher Education, which listed Sargent as the highest paid college president at a salary of 2.8 million is actually from the 2006-2007 tax year when his new contract was drafted. This year’s report is actually from the 2007-2008 tax year and a good portion of his total salary was already reported last year as deferred compensation, according to University spokesman Greg Gatlin. It was reported again this year because this is when Sargent actually received the money.

Of the $1.5 million, $449,080 was Sargent’s salary, and he received the remaining $523,200 in bonuses.

$436,000 of the bonus money was awarded to Sargent for longevity. “The board in 2006 recognized the extraordinary accomplishments [from Sargent] in the past 20 years as President and the past 53 years [overall],” said Gatlin.

A compensation study that Suffolk paid for found that in the 2005-2006 tax year, Sargent was in the lowest 25 percent for presidents of universities similarly sized, prompting the board of trustees to award Sargent more money.

Gatlin said Sargent also received an $87,000 performance bonus for “meeting criteria set by the board.”

The reason Sargent’s salary dropped significantly this year was because the 2008 report included a $1.2 million bonus, to be awarded after he retires, which will be reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education again when he receives that money.

Yesterday, the Boston Globe reported that Suffolk is now $303.5 million in debt, which is up 13 percent from last week, according to Moody’s Investor’s service.  Moody upgraded the University’s status from negative to stable because the school is going from variable rate payments to fixed rate payments.

“Suffolk University is refinancing to reduce its exposure to variable-rate debt. The university will use proceeds of a planned bond offering to refinance variable-rate debt to fixed-rate debt, which will provide long-term interest rate stability. The University believes this is a prudent move.

In examining the university’s upcoming fixed-rate bond offering, Moody’s Investors Services upgraded its long-term rating outlook to stable from negative based on the reduced risk associated with the new debt structure. Moody’s said it viewed positively the university’s move to refund all outstanding bonds with fixed rate bonds.

Moody’s also cited the university’s consistently positive operating margins, good debt service coverage from cash flow, healthy position in the market, strong liquidity, urban location and real estate holdings,” said Gatlin in a statement from the University.

“President Sargent has dedicated his entire career to making Suffolk University a better institution for its students,” said Gatlin. “His leadership over the past 20 years as President has led to a transformation of the University.”