President Martha Pollack is Cornell’s highest officer, leading the multi-campus university and overseeing billions in operations from her Day Hall office. But while she takes in hundreds of thousands in salary for this gig, tax documents show that her first-year payout was far less than any other president in the Ivy League.
Pollack made a base salary of only $671,693 in her first year, with an additional $16,000 in benefits and “other” compensation, according to Cornell’s tax filings for 2017-2018. This figure only reflects her pay from April through December. While the tax filings cover her first year working, compensation reports come from full-year W-2 forms, according to Cornell University spokesperson John Carberry.
Her abridged first-year Ivy League salary didn’t clear the top 100 total take-ins for American private university executives, and according to tax data compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the presidents of all seven Ivy League universities likely took in more cash during the 2017-2018 academic year than Pollack.
Across the Ivies
Some other Ivy League leaders have reigned over their brick-and-mortars for decades, others for only a few years, but all — save the president of Princeton University — took in at least a million dollars from their institutions during the 2017-2018 year.
Salaries range in the millions, and presidential packages can come with lucrative retirement plans, complimentary mansions for their tenure and tens of thousands more in benefits.
The University of Pennsylvania set aside $686,500 in 2017-2018 just for its president Amy Gutmann’s retirement plan — Gutmann’s total paycheck, the highest in the Ivy League, was just shy of $3 million. Gutmann has been in office since 2004.
Princeton head Christoper Eisgruber, then in his fifth year in office, made $970,900 — still nearly $300,000 more than Pollack.
Eisgruber started at Princeton in 2013 with a salary of around $730,000 between base pay and benefits. Harvard recruited a new president, Lawrence Bacow, the year after Pollack in 2018; Bacow’s salary has not yet been made public.
Many prestigious schools shell out millionaire salaries for their top dogs, and while paydays often skew higher for private universities than for public ones, there’s no hard-and-fast rule.
When Pollack came to Cornell from her post as provost and executive vice president of academic affairs at the University of Michigan, she took a pay raise of around $175,000. However, she currently makes less than Mark Schlissel, president of the Big 10 school, both now and in his first year in office in 2014.
The 2017-2018 figure only reports President Pollack’s own first year at her Day Hall desk — Cornell’s presidential salaries have traditionally increased over time. Previous records show that while base pay may increase by a few tens of thousands each year, the real payday comes from bonus and extra pay, which can net leaders hundreds of thousands above that base figure.
Above Cayuga’s Waters
Between his first year in 2004 and 2015, Cornell President David Skorton’s base pay increased by over a quarter of a million dollars, even before adding on six-figure retirement payouts and benefits. Skorton left office in 2015 after ten years of service, netting a base pay of over $872,000 plus bonuses and other income totaling well over seven-hundred grand.
His successor, the late President Elizabeth Garrett, was only president from July 2015 through Feb. 18 of the next year, only a few weeks before her March 6 death from cancer. The University paid its first female president less than Skorton’s 2004 starting salary for that length of time, both in base pay and in total including benefits and deferred retirement.
In the year that former President Hunter Rawlings stepped in as “interim president” following Garrett’s death, he made significantly more than Pollack in her first year in the top office, with total compensation amounting to over $1.6 million. Even during Pollack’s first year in office, Rawlings continued to take in big paydays of deferred income, netting another $1.5 million.
University spokesperson John Carberry pointed out that 2017-2018 was a transition year, accounting for the large figures paid to Rawlings and Pollack’s own abridged salary.
Other University administrators also took in high sums — Provost Michael Kotlikoff made a salary comparable to Pollack’s April-December earnings.
Pollack’s yearly salary, including base pay, bonuses and benefits, is set by Cornell’s Board of Trustees, a 50-plus-member collective that meets in New York City.
Cornell isn’t the only source of income for Pollack, who has a prolific background in artificial intelligence — she sits on the board of technology titan IBM. Information on Pollack’s earnings from this position are not yet public.
Also a factor as Pollack balances her checkbook: Cornell owns and maintains a 9,000-square-foot mansion, known as Robin Hill or Thorn Hill, as an official residence for its sitting president and their family while they live in Ithaca.
Salary figures for Pollack’s second year in office will be filed with the University’s taxes after the academic fiscal year ends in July.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the figure for President Martha’s Pollack’s salary covered her entire first year in office. In fact, the filing process reports only her salary through the end of 2017. All instances of this fact or its derivatives have been updated for clarity. The Sun regrets this error.