Physicians at Weill Cornell Medicine and University administrators receive the highest paychecks of all Cornell employees, while Ithaca-based professors average a much lower salary. While the top earner makes more than $7 million per year, the average pay for full professors in contract colleges is less than $150,000.
A Sun review of the IRS tax filings found that the top three highest-paid Cornell employees in 2016 were all obstetrician-gynecologists, which differs from other Ivy League schools: Columbia and Yale’s highest earners were investment management administrators, while Brown’s included both the university’s president and investment personnel.
Cornell’s IRS tax return for 2016, or Form 990, lists the compensation of officers, directors, trustees, the five highest compensated employees, certain former employees and “key employees.”
The IRS defines “key employees” as individuals who receive more than $150,000 annually from Cornell and related organizations — including non-profits, stock corporations and governmental units — and who hold responsibility over the entire University or manage an activity that constitutes at least 10 percent of the University’s assets or expenses.
Because Cornell only has to list 20 “key employees,” other employees who meet these criteria may not be included on the form.
The listed compensation amounts include both reportable compensation from Cornell and “other compensation” from Cornell and related organizations. The IRS defines “other compensation” as tax-deferred employee contributions to a qualified defined contribution retirement plan, employer contributions to health benefits and other benefits.
Cornell’s highest earner, Prof. Zev Rosenwaks, obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive medicine, made $7,193,540 in 2016. Rosenwaks is the director and physician-in-chief of the Ronald O. Perelman and Claudia Cohen Center for Reproductive Medicine.
Cornell is unique among the Ivies in having a fertility doctor as its highest earner. The highest paid employee at Yale in 2016 was the university’s chief investment officer, David F. Swensen, whose compensation was $4,683,382, according to Yale’s tax return.
The second and third highest paid employees at Cornell in 2016 were also physicians at the Center for Reproductive Medicine. Prof. Hey-Joo Kang, obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive medicine, who was the second highest earner, made $4,408,394. The third highest paid employee was Prof. Steven Spandorfer, obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive medicine, who earned $3,828,565.
“The compensation of full-time faculty is based upon their teaching, research and administrative responsibilities, as well as the income derived from their clinical practices,” said John Carberry, a University spokesperson, in an email to The Sun.
The fourth highest earner in 2016 was a neurosurgeon at Weill Cornell, Theodore Schwartz, while the fifth highest earner was another obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Pak Chung.
At Brown University, the president earned the most money in 2016. As President and fellow of the university, Christina Paxson made $1,528,249. The university’s vice president and chief investment officer was the second highest earner and a managing director for Brown’s Investment Office was the third.
Like Yale, Columbia’s top earner also manages the university’s endowment. The highest paid employee, Peter Holland, served as Chief Investment Officer until October of 2016, at which point he became the chief executive officer of Columbia Investment Management. He earned $6,709,425 in 2016. The university also follows the trend of having physicians among the highest earners, as Columbia’s second most paid employee is dermatologist David N. Silvers.
Cornell’s tax return also revealed the pay of high-level administrators, some of whom make more than $1 million. In 2016, Chief Medical Officer Daniel M. Knowles made $1,907,984, and Interim President Hunter Rawlings III earned a sum of $1,158,046.
“While a handful of senior administration officials may appear on this IRS filing along with some faculty members in Ithaca and New York City, Cornell University’s top priority has been and remains retaining and attracting the world’s leading researchers and educators,” Carberry said.
Professors average lower salaries than the top Cornell administrators. The average salary of a full professor at Cornell’s endowed colleges in 2011 was approximately $161,800, and the average salary of full professors at the contract colleges was $143,600, according to data provided to The Sun by Ehrenberg and the data from a 2018 edition of Academe, a magazine of the American Association of University Professors.
“The administrative jobs are much higher and have much more responsibility than the typical professor does,” Ehrenberg said. “A typical professor worries about his or her own teaching and research, and the administrators have this responsibility for the institution as a whole.”
He said that the ratio of administrator salaries to faculty salaries has been “increasing dramatically over time.”
In his email to The Sun, Carberry said compensation for faculty and administration is “based on the realities of that global marketplace,” and that as a top global research institution Cornell has to compete with peer institutions to “attract leading scholars as well as the most seasoned and accomplished administrators.”