The Norman Transcript


August 26, 2013

Private colleges should pay taxes



Among their arguments: Princeton University has the largest endowment per student in the country; it made $115 million from scientific patents in 2011 and turned $35 million of that over to various faculty members; it makes money from ticketed concerts, TV rights to athletic games and other events. In short, it operates like a business and ought to be taxed as such.

Princeton may be an outlier — so far — in having its residents challenge the tax exempt status of a university, but they are just one of many communities where local officials are looking hungrily at the avalanche of money flowing into colleges and universities and, from there, into the pockets of its more privileged employees.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras wants Brown University to “volunteer” more money. Boston Mayor Tom Menino wants all the nonprofits in the city to “contribute” more.

And given the rhetoric from President Obama himself that people should have to pay what government thinks they can afford, and “at some point you’ve made enough money,” why not?

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported earlier this year that the median salary of public university presidents increased 4.7 percent in 2011-12 — again outpacing inflation — to $440,000 a year. At the top of that food chain was Penn State’s Graham Spanier, at $2.9 million. You may have heard Spanier’s name even if you’re not from Pennsylvania. He was forced to resign in November 2011 after presiding over the worst athletic scandal in the history of higher education — the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse case.

At private institutions, the Chronicle reported that 36 presidents were paid more than $1 million, with the average base salary at $397,860.

Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity who teaches economics at Ohio University and has tracked higher education costs for decades, noted just one example of an administrator living large in a recent column for Bloomberg: Gordon Gee of Ohio State University (paid more than $1.8 million last year), spent $532 for a shower curtain in the presidential mansion.

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