The average public university president earned $421,395 in salary and other compensation in 2010-11, according to an annual survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education. And some, such as Ohio State University’s Gordon Gee, who brought home $1.992 million in total compensation last year, earn significantly more.

But the quality of applicants, on the whole, is not as good these days as even a few years ago, Trachtenberg said.

“Is it harder to find people who want the jobs? No,” Trachtenberg said. “Is it harder to find people who deserve to get the jobs? Yes.”

Trachtenberg, whose forthcoming book examines failed university presidencies, compares the job of running a campus to the work of hapless Russian sleigh drivers trying to keep the wolves at bay while crossing Siberia.

“The job of a university president is like driving a troika across a snowy field being chased by wolves, and you have to keep a hamper of lamb chops,” he said. “You threw lamb chops off behind you, and the wolves stopped to eat and you got ahead. When they started pursuing again, you threw more lamb chops.

“When your hamper is out of lamb chops, when the resources are diminished, you have less ability to slow down all the stakeholders, all the constituents — all the wolves — that are running after you.”


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