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Florida universities rank high in presidential pay

Florida International University

Florida’s universities trail the nation when it comes to state funding and academic rankings, but they do score high in one area: pay for their top leaders.

The median pay for presidents of the eight research universities in Florida was $510,000 during 2010-11 school year, compared to $421,000 nationally, according to an analysis released by the “Chronicle of Higher Education,” an academic news journal. Total compensation for the current year isn’t available yet for all institutions, since some presidents are still eligible for bonuses.

In South Florida, Mark Rosenberg, of Florida International University, received $561,875, ranking him as 38th best-paid in the country. On the lower end, Florida Atlantic University President Mary Jane Saunders, was paid $381,161 during her first full year on the job. Officials from the two schools couldn’t be reached for comment Monday despite calls to their offices.

Five university presidents had salaries exceeding $500,000, which could send the wrong message to the public at a time when universities are facing steep budget cuts and have been raising tuition 15 percent a year, critics say.

“It looks like they have money to burn,” said Tom Auxter, president of the United Faculty of Florida, a state association for professors. “But the truth is we’ve lost a third of our funding in five years.”

Although the University of Florida and Florida State University are considered the top two public universities in the state, their presidents aren’t among the highest paid. Those honors go to John Hitt, of the University of Central Florida, ($741,500), who was the ninth-best paid in the country, and Judy Genshaft, of the University of South Florida, ($592,400) who was 28th.

UCF awards 40 percent of Hitt’s pay based on meeting performance goals, spokesman Grant Heston said, adding UCF has the second-largest enrollment of any public university in the country at 58,500.

“During Dr. Hitt’s presidency, enrollment has more than doubled, research funding has more than tripled, the number of doctorates awarded each year has more than quadrupled and annual giving has grown tenfold,” Heston said.

State law allows only $200,000 of a president’s salary to come from public funds. The rest must come from university foundations or other private sources.

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