By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Salaries of presidents of U.S. public universities rose almost 5 percent in the last fiscal year, even as tuition rose and student debt soared, with the median pay package topping $400,000, according to a report released on Sunday.
Penn State's Graham Spanier was the top earner last year at the time he was fired over the Jerry Sandusky scandal, according to the study by the Chronicle of Higher Education, though his compensation was inflated by $2.4 million in severance pay and deferred compensation.
The median total compensation for the public university presidents in fiscal year 2011-2012 was $441,392, the study found. Four of the presidents earned more than $1 million, and the median base pay jumped 2 percent to $373,800.
Spanier received total compensation of $2.9 million, the same fiscal year that he was fired for his handling of the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Jay Gogue of Auburn University in Alabama, E. Gordon Gee of Ohio State University, and Alan Merten of George Mason University in Ohio, who has since left his position, also received more than $1 million in the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Gee had the highest base pay, at $830,439, which accounted for 44 percent of his total compensation.
Spanier - charged with two other former Penn State officials in the Sandusky case - is awaiting trial for perjury and obstruction of justice in what a grand jury called a "conspiracy of silence" to cover up Sandusky's crimes. All three men have pleaded not guilty.
Spanier's base pay was $350,959, and he received an additional $2.4 million in severance pay and deferred compensation.
Deferred compensation plans give executives a lump sum after they serve for a certain length of time and are common in presidential contracts because they serve as retention incentives, according to the Chronicle.
Sandusky, 69, a former Penn State assistant football coach, was found guilty of abusing 10 boys he targeted through a charity he founded for at-risk youth. He is serving a 30-to-60-year prison sentence.
The Chronicle of Higher Education survey used federal tax filings to analyze the base pay, benefits and deferred compensation plans of 212 presidents at 191 public research institutions for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
The Chronicle surveyed compensation at private colleges in 2010, and found that 36 private college presidents earned more than $1 million. The median pay of the 494 presidents surveyed was $397,860.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Adler)