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Opening Arguments

Just shy of the $1 million club

If you want to talk about a group of people who are getting big, big money despite not getting the job done, we don't have to stop with members of Congress:

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.

The problem isn't just confined to the items listed above of rising tuition costs and student debt, it's the questionable value of what students are getting for the massive payouts, what some have started to call the "higher education bubble."

In the meantime, Ball State University's Jo Ann M. Gora is No. 5 on the list, but tried a little sleight of hand to hide that fact:

Fearing as much, Jo Ann M. Gora, president of Ball State University, turned down a pay increase last summer.

"She did not want to be a distraction to the challenging work ahead of us," Hollis E. Hughes Jr., president of the university's Board of Trustees, said at a board meeting, which was covered by The Star Press, in Muncie, Ind. "On this she was quite firm."

Ms. Gora, who became president in 2004, asked that her salary remain at $431,244, the newspaper reported.

Unmentioned, however, was a deferred-compensation payout of the same amount, which she received three weeks later. That payout, which had accumulated over five years, combined with other benefits to bring her 2011-12 total compensation to $984,647. Just four other public-college presidents in the nation made more than that.

Wow. No. 5 in the nation, and it's not even IU or Purdue. Let me anticipate several objections to my tone here: 1. College presidents are judged on things like strategic planning and fund-raising for which I'm not properly equipped to assess Ms. Gora's performance. 2. As a good conservative/libertarian, I should not object to someone's ability to demand a salary that will be acceptable to thoes paying it. 3. I should be happy that things are apparently going so well at my alma mater that the president can command such a salary.

All true, all true, but still. As a taxpayer, I'm one of the ones paying her salary, and I have a right to ask what I'm getting for my money, especially since she got so close to $1 million for a single year.