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U. of C.'s Robert Zimmer Tops List of Highest Paid University Presidents

By Sam Cholke | December 17, 2013 7:50am
 University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer is now the highest paid private university leader in the country, according to an analysis by the Chronicle for Higher Education.
University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer is now the highest paid private university leader in the country, according to an analysis by the Chronicle for Higher Education.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer is the highest paid leader of a private university in the nation, raking in more than $3.3 million in 2012.

Zimmer was squarely at the pinnacle of the rankings, topping Northeastern University’s Joseph Aoun's $3.1 million in compensation and Marist College’s Dennis Murray's $2.6 million in pay, according to an analysis released Sunday by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Bob Zimmer’s compensation reflects the high degree of confidence the board has in his leadership at a crucial moment in the university’s history,” said Andrew Alper, chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees, in a prepared statement. “The university has built extraordinary momentum by supporting the work of our scholars and students at the highest level, building on a tradition of eminence in research, learning and engagement.”

During the period examined by the Chronicle, June 2011 to June 2012, Zimmer’s base salary was $917,993, with $2.4 million coming in perks and promised payouts in the future as an incentive to keep him in the job he’s held since 2006.

Zimmer is provided a personal car and driver and he is allowed to use the president’s house on campus, which is cleaned and maintained at no cost to him. Much of his travel expenses and health and social club dues are paid by the university at a cost of $147,452.

All university officers get $19,600 per year in deferred contributions to a retirement plan, but Internal Revenue Service filings show Zimmer got an additional $435,800 in 2012 to an unspecified retirement plan.

A portion of Zimmer’s pay is a double-counted, according to a statement from the university in response to the Chronicle analysis. A promised payout as an incentive to keep Zimmer in the job was counted once during the initial promise and again when the university had to make good on that promise, according to the statement.

“Deferred compensation is a common part of compensation packages for university presidents,” the statement says. “Under IRS regulations, deferred compensation is reported at least twice — when it is earned, and again when it vests.”

It was unclear how much of Zimmer’s pay was counted twice, and spokesmen from the university did not respond to requests for clarification.

In 2012, Zimmer also got a $200,000 bonus. During his tenure as president, he had only once before received a bonus — for just $467 in 2009. It is unclear in the tax filings what the bonus was for.

“Since President Zimmer joined the university in 2006, the university has launched several major new academic programs, including its Institute for Molecular Engineering,” the university said in a prepared statement. “It has opened or begun work on university centers in Beijing, Delhi and Hong Kong, and established a new affiliation with the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.”

The center in Bejing and the Institute for Molecular Engineering were launched during the period examined by the Chronicle, but the centers in Dehli and Hong Kong were announced this year.

The period marks a rare moment when Zimmer was the highest paid employee at the university.

Chief Investment Officer Mark Schmid, who oversees the university’s $11.9 billion in assets, has repeatedly topped the rankings for the highest paid employee at the university. Schmid earned $2.4 million in 2012. More than half of his pay came from a nearly $1.3 million bonus.

Administrators like Schmid have increasingly come to dominate the bracket of top earners at the university under Zimmer’s tenure.

As recently as 2008, all the top paid employees at the university were faculty, mostly from the medical school. By 2012, none of the top-earners at the university were academics. Six of the top 10 earners at the university in 2012 were employees of the Office of Investments, many of whom far out-earned the president and the leaders of the hospital and the medical, law and business schools.

During 2012, the university’s assets increased to $11.9 billion, but it became increasingly indebted, as its liabilities increased to $5 billion from $4.5 billion in 2011.

A Fitch Ratings report from April said the university’s debt level was “slightly high,” but the financial outlook was stable as the university planned another $410 million bond issue as part of a $1.2 billion five-year expansion of the campus.