NJIT President’s $5.3M Contract Takes Top Spot Among NJ College Chiefs

Mark Lagerkvist | May 23, 2016 | Education
To some critics, high salaries are hard to justify when students are struggling to pay tuition and more professors are needed at many schools

At $555,000 a year, Joel Bloom does not have the highest salary among New Jersey public college presidents. But counting his extra benefits and perks from New Jersey Institute of Technology, Bloom has a taxpayer-supported deal that’s second to none.

Bloom’s five-year contract with NJIT is worth roughly $5.3 million. And that doesn’t count the cost of his pension, health insurance, vacation time, sick leave and expense account — not to mention the car and driver provided by the Newark-based research university.

No other public officials in New Jersey receive the levels of compensation that many college presidents enjoy — not even Gov. Chris Christie or state Supreme Court justices, according to a NJ Spotlight analysis.

The little-known cornucopia of extras is detailed in employment contracts obtained under the Open Public Records Act (Follow this link to review the compensation packages and contracts for the presidents of New Jersey’s public universities and colleges.)

For example, Bloom’s deal with NJIT includes:

  • Performance bonus of up to 25 percent of his salary. Last year, it was $130,000;
  • Annual “retention incentive” bonus of $120,000 to help ensure his loyalty to NJIT;
  • Housing allowance of $85,000 a year;
  • Three-fourths of his salary for two years — $825,000 based on his current pay — as an advisor and figurehead with the title of president emeritus after he retires or resigns.
  • “Dr. Bloom is a visionary leader and a long-standing advocate for quality higher education in the state of New Jersey and well represents the public interest,” read a prepared statement released by NJIT.

    Institute officials sidestepped questions about Bloom’s compensation. Instead, they touted NJIT’s recent progress, including increases in enrollment and graduation rates, new programs and construction projects, and a fundraising campaign that has generated roughly $170 million for its capital fund.

    Overall, many of the bonuses and perks offered to public college presidents across New Jersey are not tied to specific goals or achievements.

    “The whole of idea of a bonus because you stay X number of years, I don’t understand that,” said Susanna Tardi, vice president for higher education at the New Jersey chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. “I don’t think it’s fair to taxpayers — and it does no benefit for higher education.”

    According to Tardi, the money would be better spent on hiring more professors or lowering tuition for students.

    The salary hierarchy

    At $676,260 a year, Robert Barchi receives the highest salary among public college presidents in New Jersey (See the list for a complete breakout of salaries). It is more than triple what the state pays Gov. Christie ($175,000) or Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner ($192,795).

    Following Barchi are the presidents of the state’s two other research universities — Bloom of NJIT ($555,000) and Ali Houshmand of Rowan University ($550,000).

    At the next level are the other eight institutions that offer four-year degrees. Topping that scale is Susan Cole of Montclair State at $403,650. At the bottom is Sue Henderson of New Jersey City University at $295,000.

    The state’s 19 community colleges comprise the third tier. The highest salary in that group belongs to Steven Rose of Passaic County Community College at $256,016 a year. The lowest is $110,400, the salary of Shelly Schneider, interim president at Cumberland County College.

    Overall, the average salary is $270,000 a year. The compensation of presidents is determined by the governing body of each school. There are no limits or guidelines set by the state.

    The bonus analysis

    Twenty college presidents have contracts that provide for annual bonuses based on performance or longevity, NJ Spotlight found.

    R. Barbara Gitenstein of The College of New Jersey in Ewing gets both types of bonuses in addition to her $335,341 salary.

    One is a 20 percent retention incentive payment each year. Based on Gitenstein’s current $355,341 base salary, that bonus exceeds $71,000 a year.

    The other is a performance bonus of up to 10 percent a year as decided by TCNJ trustees. That can add another $35,000 or so to Gitenstein’s pay envelope, hiking her annual total of potential bonuses above $100,000 a year.

    “Retention of a good president is always the concern of a board,” explained TCNJ spokesman David Muha in a written statement. “Beyond the valuable leadership they provide, there is a real cost to an institution whenever it has to conduct a presidential search. There is the expense related to the search, which can run well into six figures; the disruption to business, which can be lengthy; and the reality that compensation tends to increase, not decrease, whenever there’s a new hire.”

    The amounts of most bonuses paid to college presidents are not set in stone. Instead, the contracts often leave those rewards to the discretion of college trustees.

    Barchi of Rutgers is eligible for an annual bonus of up to 15 percent of his salary. Earlier this year, the university’s board of governors awarded him a $97,000 gratuity.

    Paying it forward

    At least 17 presidents receive deferred compensation or contributions to annuities. These benefits are paid in the future and designed to supplement their public pensions and other retirement nest eggs.

    Next year, George Pruitt is scheduled to collect a lump sum of roughly $250,000 in deferred pay from Thomas Edison State University in Trenton. The amount will equal 15 percent of his annual salary — presently $337,000 — for the previous five years.

    Kathleen Waldron of William Paterson University in Wayne also receives deferred compensation equaling 15 percent of her salary, currently $324,000. Since 2010, the college has contributed $278,000 to a retirement plan in which she is fully vested.

    The benefit is also enjoyed by some presidents of community colleges. Over the next five years, Middlesex County College is slated to pay roughly a quarter-million dollars into an alternative pension benefit for Joann La Perla-Morales. The amount will be equal to 21 percent of her annual salary, now $206,684, and will gradually increase to 25 percent.

    Home sweet home

    Seventeen presidents receive free use of college-owned residences or housing allowances as part of their compensation packages.

    Campus housing is provided to the presidents of Rowan, Rutgers, TCNJ, Kean University, Montclair State University, Middlesex County College, Essex County College, and Ramapo College.

    At Ramapo, Peter Mercer gets a $20,000 allowance plus use of the second floor of the Havemeyer House in Mahwah.

    Bloom of NJIT is at the head of his class with a housing allowance of $85,000 a year. He is followed by Pruitt of Thomas Edison State, $67,400; Henderson of NJCU, $56,000; Harvey Kesselman of Stockton University, $48,000; Michael McDonough of Raritan Valley Community College, $24,000; and Margaret McMenamin of Union County College, $24,000. Four other presidents receive $18,000 or less per year.

    Waldron of William Paterson has a contractual choice between an annual allowance of $64,800 and college housing. Barchi of Rutgers gets his choice of campus housing or an off-campus rental paid by the university.

    On the road

    Twenty-three college presidents are provided with the use of college cars or an allowance to cover the cost of using their own automobiles. Here’s a breakdown of those arrangements:

  • Vehicles are assigned by contract to 17 presidents; three get drivers on request.
  • Four are paid automobile allowances.
  • Two get their choice of a car or payment.
  • Dawood Farahi of Kean has the option of the top allowance offered, $12,000 a year, or a college vehicle. Waldron can choose between a car leased by William Paterson or a $9,600 annual payment.

    Gitenstein may be the president who gets the best deal on wheels. TCNJ is required to provide her with a new full-sized leased automobile every three years for “personal as well as professional use.” If her employment ends on good terms, the college will buy the car and give her the title as a parting gift.

    Perks plus

    As a general rule, most college presidents get expense accounts or credit cards issued in the school’s name to cover expenses. Most contracts are vague about spending limits, but here are a few particulars gleaned from employment agreements:

    +Farahi of Kean can spend up to $36,000 annually for “entertainment expenses”

  • Mercer of Ramapo has a discretionary fund of $15,000 “for any miscellaneous, college-related expenses”
  • + Henderson of NJCU has $15,000 a year reserved for “membership dues and professional conference attendance”

  • Until her dismissal last month, Gale Gibson of Essex County College had up to $25,000 a year available to pay for expenses including “incidental expenses that are necessary for her to properly maintain and promote the image of the college”
  • Vacation time and sick pay are often much more generous than what’s offered in other public-or private-sector jobs. Among college presidents, no one gets more time off with pay than Kesselman of Stockton, based in Galloway.
  • Kesselman gets nearly nine weeks (44 days) of vacation plus three weeks of sick leave. That adds up to 12 weeks annually – or nearly a quarter of the year. Based on his $320,000 salary, that adds up to roughly $73,000 a year worth of time off.

    Presidents typically receive medical coverage as a benefit, but Gitenstein’s contact with TCNJ goes one step further. She and her family have lifetime health and prescription drug insurance guaranteed at the college’s expense.

    “There’s too many perks involved,” said Tardi. “At every level there’s perks, that’s how it works. Should it be that way? No.”

    We’re in this together
    For a better-informed future. Support our nonprofit newsroom.
    Donate to NJ Spotlight