Senior Vice President for Investments Paula Volent was once again the College's highest-compensated employee in the 2008 calendar year, according to tax documents filed by the College. While Volent was one of the best compensated chief investment officers in the NESCAC, President Barry Mills was effectively tied with Hamilton President Joan Stewart as the second-lowest compensated president of all 11 schools in the conference. Volent received a compensation package worth $665,737, which included a base salary of $408,064, deferred compensation of $235,351 and nontaxable benefits and other compensation totaling $22,322.
Under Volent, the endowment grew 1.3 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2008 and fell 17 percent in FY 2009. The median performance of institutional endowments tracked by investment advisory firm Cambridge Associates was -1.1 percent in FY 2008 and -20 percent in FY 2009. The only CIO in the NESCAC who earned more than Volent was Collette Chilton of Williams, whose total compensation was $680,263. Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Katy Longley declined to discuss Volent's contract, citing a confidentiality agreement.
As a nonprofit organization, Bowdoin is required to disclose the compensation of its highest-paid employees on the Form 990, a form that the IRS recently restructured. Rather than reporting salaries according to the College's fiscal year—which runs from July 1 to June 30—as it had in the past, the new 990 reports figures based on the calendar year. Furthermore, the new 990 requires that nonprofits disclose the value of nontaxable benefits, which includes housing and other perks provided to campus administrators.
While the new form is more comprehensive, comparing administrators' total compensation with past years is problematic. Raymond D. Cotton, a higher education attorney in Washington, D.C. who specializes in executive compensation, cautioned that the IRS had not provided sufficient guidance yet in completing some parts of the compensation section of the new 990.
"Different colleges are using different formulas to do it," he said.
Bowdoin was the only college in the NESCAC at which the president was not the highest-paid employee.
Mills' total compensation came in at $470,111 in calendar year 2008, comprising a salary of $373,804, other compensation of $12,299, deferred compensation of $35,568 and nontaxable benefits worth $48,440. Longley said that Mills' housing allowance constituted a large portion of his nontaxable benefits, as Presidents of Bowdoin are required to reside in College housing. According to the previous year's 990, Mills received a salary of $375,000 and his total compensation was $424,221.
It is somewhat of an anomaly for the head of an elite college—especially a president with Mills' tenure, fundraising acumen and track record—to be comparatively underpaid.
"Presidents get asked all the time why they get paid so much," said Cotton, "so it's a bit unusual for a president to be asked why [he is] paid so little."
In explaining his atypically low compensation, Mills cited a personal conviction that the leaders of nonprofits should not be in their line of work for monetary gain, and added that his current level of compensation was sufficient.
"I don't need more than that to adequately compensate me for what I do," he said. "Other colleges make different decisions, obviously."
The Board of Trustees is responsible for setting Mills' compensation, and he said that his view of the matter was clear to the Board.
"They made a judgment, and they made it based on advice they've gotten from me," he said. "They know exactly where I stand. Have they had conversations with me about paying me more? Yes."
"My arrangement with the College is probably not an arrangement that another college president might want," he added, "but it is one that suits me."
Bowdoin's summary of the process for the president's compensation on the 990 differs from the other 10 NESCAC schools reported on their 990s. Every other school hires an external compensation consultant or has a subcommittee of trustees responsible for setting the president's compensation. Bowdoin's 990 states that the College's treasurer and director of human resources are responsible for providing "competitive salary data" to the Board of Trustees. Cotton, the higher education attorney, said that this presented a conflict of interest.
"There are two people who are delivering data to the Board who are under the supervision of the president," he said. "That should not be. The person who delivers the data to the board, who should be relied upon for advice and analysis, should be an outside consultant, who, as they say, has no dog in the fight. That person should be hired by the Board, and should not report to the president."
Mills explained that because of his stance on presidential compensation, the Board had no need to hire a compensation expert.
"If I were to negotiate harder to get more from the College, then you would probably need a lawyer or executive compensation expert," he said. "But since I don't, it isn't necessary for the Board to consider going through those hoops."
"I think that model is designed for cases where presidents are being paid at very, very high rates," he added.
Mills doubted whether other NESCAC schools employed materially different policies.
"What they write in 990, versus what they actually do, I don't know if it really is that different," Mills said. "The College has not felt it is necessary to have much more sophisticated advice, because I suspect that the contracts that other presidents have are more complicated. I'm a day-to-day employee; I have no contract."
Longley, the College's treasurer, wrote in an e-mail to the Orient that Bowdoin uses data compiled by The Pierson Group, a compensation consultancy.
"Other than providing this data, neither the HR Director nor I play a role in setting presidential compensation," she wrote. "This is the same process followed by many of our peer colleges."
Mills' total compensation of $470,111 was barely higher than Hamilton's Stewart; both of them, though, lagged far behind Middlebury President Ron Liebowitz, who was the highest-compensated NESCAC president at $729,929. Although Liebowitz's base salary of $286,443 was the lowest in the conference, he received around $169,000 in both deferred compensation and other compensation.
After Liebowitz, the president of Tufts, Lawrence Bacow, was the second-highest paid president in the NESCAC. He was paid a salary of $594,040 and received total compensation to the tune of $723,480. The average presidential compensation package in the conference was $581,477.
Nationally, Liebowitz was the fourth-highest compensated president of a school classified as a "baccalaureate college" in the current Carnegie Classifications, a category containing liberal arts colleges with a similar degree-granting focus as Bowdoin. Mills' compensation landed him 54th on the list, down from 45th last year, according to data from the Chronicle of Higher Education website.
After Volent and Mills, Senior Vice President for Planning and Development Bill Torrey was the College's third-highest compensated employee. He was paid a salary of $256,743 with a total compensation of $319,442.
The College disclosed a greater number of its highest-paid employees than it had in previous years, resulting in the appearance of five professors on the 990.
Professor of Biology Patsy Dickenson was the highest-compensated professor at the College. Her total compensation was $194,463, while her base salary was $152,175. Longley attributed part of her non-salary compensation to a summer salary provided by the school.
Closely trailing Dickenson, Professor of Political Economy and Sociology Craig McEwen received a compensation package totaling $193,185. McEwen, the former dean of academic affairs and senior faculty fellow in the McKeen Center, received a salary of $159,336. The other professors listed on the 990 were Professor of Biology Bruce Kohorn, Professor of Environmental Studies DeWitt John and Professor of History Allen Wells.