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Saturday, October 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Will $100,000 raise be enough to keep UW's Emmert?

Seattle Times staff reporter

When University of Washington President Mark Emmert received an annual raise of more than $100,000 last week, it increased his pay to nearly five times the governor's and vaulted him to the top ranks of public-university presidents.

Yet UW regents still worry whether Emmert's new annual compensation of $718,700 will be enough to keep him for the long term. They say that in the two years since coming to the UW, Emmert has been approached several times by other universities, both public and private.

The latest overture came two weeks ago from the Louisiana State University system, for a job that could pay as much as $1 million a year. Emmert was chancellor of LSU before coming to the UW, but this job would be a step up — president of the entire LSU system, which includes nine campuses and all 10 of Louisiana's public hospitals.

Emmert said he chatted with several members of the LSU system's board of supervisors recently "about the job itself and the nature of the position" and hosted an LSU board member in Seattle two weeks ago. But he said there's been no offer, and it's more a case of advising old friends.

"I'm not interested in the job at all. The fact is I'm extremely happy and pleased with what I'm doing now, and I couldn't be more satisfied with being in the Northwest," said Emmert, who grew up in Fife and graduated from the UW.

"Of course it would be a compliment anytime anyone wants you back, but the fact is that people who are successful in this business, or any other, get contacted by headhunters all the time."

That Emmert is getting multiple approaches comes as no surprise to Claire Van Ummersen, a vice president at the Washington, D.C.-based American Council on Education and a former university president herself. She said she ranks Emmert among the country's top 10 university presidents.

"He's one of the most visible presidents in the United States right now," she said. "I'm sure he's on a lot of headhunter lists. He seems to have done an excellent job in improving and moving the UW forward. They praise him extremely highly within that institution."

She said a good president has to be a master at interpersonal relationships, a consummate fundraiser and political operator, and able to project a vision for the institution that excites the faculty and the community. Emmert succeeds at all those, she said.

Emmert is paid more taxpayer money than any other state employee, including Gov. Christine Gregoire, who earns $150,995. UW football coach Tyrone Willingham earns an annual base salary of $1.4 million, but that money comes from private donations and revenue generated by the school's athletic program.

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Dallas-based consultant Bill Funk, who has headed more than 300 university presidential searches, including Emmert's move to the UW, said there's been a marked escalation in presidential salaries over the past five or six years.

"As a class of executive, probably historically they've been underpaid for what they do, when you consider their budgets, the number of people they employ and the economic impact they have," he said. "But there's also an argument that this is higher ed, and it's a calling, it's not just a profession or a business to get rich in."

Funk said high-profile presidential searches are going on right now at four public universities — the University of Iowa, Indiana University, Purdue University and Ohio State University — and two private ones, Case Western Reserve University and Harvard University.

Funk said Emmert would be a top candidate for any of the posts — with the possible exception of Harvard.

"What's the old saying? Only God can serve Harvard and he already has a job," Funk joked.

Funk said it took him a year, and two rejections, before he could persuade Emmert to take the UW post. So he thinks it would also take a lot to lure Emmert away from UW, his alma mater.

Rod West, who chairs the LSU system board of supervisors, said the search committee will meet for the first time Wednesday and that any approaches before then are unofficial.

"Because Mark was a beloved and popular chancellor, everyone wants to know whether he's being considered a candidate," West said. "Mark has a lot of friends in this neck of the woods. If people are reaching out to him to determine whether or not, when the time is right, he would allow himself to be considered, it comes as no surprise to me."

UW Board of Regents Chairman Fred Kiga said he knew of several other instances in which universities had approached Emmert, including some in which task forces had visited Seattle. He said those approaches, along with Emmert's excellent performance, had been factors in determining his raise.

"If you are not being compensated near the top of what people are offering, it becomes a dissatisfier," Kiga said. "We know he's a very desirable president, and we need to be in the ballpark."

UW regents said they put much of Emmert's $104,700 raise into deferred compensation, adding an extra incentive for him to stay.

His annual package now includes a base pay of $518,700 and $200,000 in deferred compensation, the first installment of which becomes available to him in 2009 and further installments after that on a rolling three-year basis, provided he stays at the UW. He also gets free use of the UW's 12,000-square-foot mansion overlooking Lake Washington.

Emmert is about halfway through the five-year contract he signed in 2004. Were he to leave now, he would lose about $300,000 in deferred compensation.

UW Regent Sally Jewell said Emmert's raise was decided before the specifics about the LSU approach became known. Even more worrisome to her than offers from other universities is the possibility Emmert could be lured away to run a company.

"If we have a vulnerability with Mark it would be the private sector more than private [or public] schools," she said. "If you're on the radar screen with corporations as well, then you are talking about a whole different ballgame ... that's why we wanted to send him a signal."

Kiga agreed.

"We think he could probably run a Fortune 500 company," he said.

"I'd be surprised if they didn't come knocking. Obviously, that's an opportunity that's going to come up in his lifetime as well."

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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