Lefton’s bonus rises, despite recession

Jenna Staul

“Lester’s compensation is very much in the middle of the range.”

New study finds that the economy has curbed pay raises for other university presidents

Budget cuts and a lagging economy curbed pay raises last year for public university presidents, according to a new survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But President Lester Lefton — whose pay is ranked fifth among Ohio public university presidents — bucked that trend in May 2009 when he received a 5 percent bonus from the Board of Trustees, bringing his maximum bonus to 25 percent of his base salary, or $94,631.25.

Executive pay at public universities rose just 2.3 percent from the previous year and base salaries for one-third of the 185 public university presidents studied stopped growing altogether, according to the survey.

The board approved an amendment to Lefton’s contract at their November meeting that could make his total compensation as much as $533,156.25 this fiscal year.

The Chronicle reported that many public university presidents took voluntary pay reductions in an effort to show “solidarity with their campuses.”

“Lester’s compensation is very much in the middle of the range,” said Patrick Mullin, Board of Trustees chairman. “He has done a phenomenal job. We’ve had record fundraising, record retention, we’re embarking on a downtown revitalization and renovating the campus.”

Lefton and 10 members of his cabinet donated their pay raises to a scholarship fund for students struggling to pay tuition.

“First of all, I don’t set my pay, the Board of Trustees sets my pay, as they do for all college university presidents,” Lefton said. “They conducted a study to determine what compensation should apply and how it should be comprised. I’m the fifth highest in the state — I’m not No. 1, I’m not No. 2, I’m not No. 3. I’m No. 5.”

While other public universities may have quelled executive pay raises, Mullin said a six-month job evaluation conducted by the board determined Lefton was deserving of the bonus.

“I can’t really speak for (other universities),” Mullin said. “I just know our process was arduous. We interviewed all the vice presidents and met with faculty and staff.”

Lefton’s pay raise was approved in May — two months before the board announced it would raise tuition 3.5 percent, a fact that Mullin said could have impacted the decision to increase his bonus.

“If the facts were different we may have made a different decision,” Mullin said. “It’s hard to answer. You can’t look at a crystal ball backwards.”

Only one public university president’s salary exceeded $1 million — Ohio State’s Gordon Gee.

Gee, who in a statement called leading Ohio State “a calling,” received a 2.5 percent salary increase and donated his $200,531 bonus to a scholarship fund.

“I make about the average of a university president,” Lefton said. “Like most jobs in the world there is a benchmark.”

Contact administration reporter Jenna Staul at [email protected].