Executive pay in the University of Alaska system

Four of the top 10 highest salaried executive positions in the State of Alaska come from the University of Alaska, according to Alaska Department of Administration compensation data for calendar year 2016. The top earner on the list was UA President Jim Johnsen, who received $341,445.

At UAA, former Chancellor Tom Case received a total compensation of $267,658 in salary and vehicle allowances. With Case’s retirement, interim Chancellor Sam Gingerich’s employment contract awards him a similar base salary, but no university housing or vehicle. The chancellor and his cabinet combined are paid a smaller total amount than the highest paid public university president, Michael Crow of Arizona State University, who earns $1.5 million a year, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.


Three of the highest paid executive positions at UAA belong to interims, people who are temporarily assigned to a position while a search process is held. After Gingerich, the interim Provost of Academic Affairs, Duane Hrncir, has a base salary of $200,000, which is $8,000 less than former provost Gingerich. Interim Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs, Pat Shier, while an interim, has the highest base salary of the vice chancellors at $173,000.

While these salaries top the list of state executives in Alaska, these positions fall below the national average for a public college leader ($521,000).

Ron Kamahele, director of Human Resource Services, said that while pay increased over the last four years in the Lower 48, pay has been frozen in Alaska.

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“When our economy started going down we froze, essentially we froze executive salaries,” Kamahele said. “I myself have not received a cost of living adjustment since probably 2013. So we’ve been frozen while the rest of the country, their salaries have been going up because the economy’s on a very good upswing and it has been and we’re still locked in.”

A search process is underway for the Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs position, and UA President Johnsen said by this time next year, “We will have a permanent chancellor and a permanent provost and the deans will all be permanent deans.”

“We will offer market competitive salaries and you know the market for these positions is a national market, it’s not simply a state market, it’s a national market,” Johnsen said. “But there’s more to taking a position than the pay. The pay is clearly an important consideration, but people don’t go into higher education — I didn’t go into higher education — to get rich. I was making a lot more money in the private sector than I make here.”

Shier stepped into his role at Administrative Services last October and receives a base salary of almost $5,000 less than the previous Vice Chancellor Bill Spindle. Shier received an out of class 10 percent increase in salary when he went from serving as chief information officer to vice chancellor, but he said the public sector often faces scrutiny over such pay increases.

“It’s been my experience that public sector is always under a great deal of scrutiny, particularly in Alaska where we are all neighbors, close neighbors,” Shier said. “I think it is mostly difficult for wages to rise in many cases even to the national average in part due to the fact that we’re essentially a resource-based economy, and we have those ups and downs and the downward periods are well remembered by everyone. I think that mitigates the upward pressure that may naturally occur outside a place like Alaska.”

Frozen salaries can make it harder to retain or to recruit qualified talent. Soren Orley is chairing the national search committee for the vice chancellor of Administrative Services, and he said pay can affect the quality of candidates who apply for a position because, “for some people they are going to find that [salary] very attractive, and for some people that won’t be enough to entice them to apply for the job.”

“I think we are going to find people that are interested even with the salaries we have,” Orley said. “I learned a long time ago especially in higher education, money isn’t necessarily the main attractor. People don’t go into higher education for money, they typically go into it for other reasons. That’s the reason that I feel at our salary we’re going to get people applying for it because that’s what they want to do and the money will be high enough that they can live comfortably. Will they get rich? No, but they can be comfortable.”

UAA is the only University of Alaska institution with multiple interim positions in the top tier of the executive leadership organizational chart.

“Is it unusual to have the top three positions basically be vacant at the same time? And my answer to that is yes,” Orley said. “But the university is bigger than that, the university is going to continue on and this is what I would call a minor inconvenience in the history of UAA to get through this period.”

John Mouracade, dean of the University Honors College, was interim dean for three years, a time period that he calls “unusually long.”

“It did become a running joke, because in three years, I started introducing myself as the permanent interim Dean of the Honors College,” Mouracade said.

After three years of holding an interim title, this year Mouracade’s contract says dean. When he asked about a change in compensation for this new title, Mouracade said he was told there would be no pay difference.

“Since John [Mouracade] was serving, and has been serving for all intents and purposes, as dean of the Honors College, his salary did not change,” Gingrich said..

Mouracade receives a base salary of $125,000.

“Typically, in normal budget times when you go from interim to regular, usually that comes with a pay increase,” Mouracade said. “I don’t know what it typically is. Usually, there is an interim discount.”

Both Gingerich and Mouracade see two reasons to have interims: One, to have someone continue fulfilling the duties of a position while a job search is conducted and two, sometimes interim positions are created to revitalize or start new organizations.

“[One] kind of interim is very short term and and sort of like, ‘hold the rudder and wait for the new captain to show up,’” Mouracade said. “And there’s interims like I have, or Paul Deputy and the College of Education where, when I got the contract first it was a two year contract and Bear Baker was the provost at the time, and he tasked me with sort of revitalizing the Honors College. It wasn’t a sort of ‘hold the rudder,’ it was, ‘let’s get this going and see if this can be viable.’”

Gingerich said the large number of interim positions is due more to a set of disconnected decisions rather than one unique action, and that UAA needs to focus on developmental opportunities.

“We have what we call a shallow bench,” Gingerich said. “We do not do a good job at providing professional development opportunities for individuals and we do have to work on that.”

That bench includes the six academic deans of the colleges with several deans just starting at UAA or with a short history at the university. Jeff Jessee, dean of the College of Health, is compensated with a base salary of $198,000.04 as he starts his first year with UAA. Dean of the Community and Technical College Denise Runge has been at UAA for a year and receives a base salary of $155,000.04. Fred Barlow has been Dean of the College of Engineering for two years and he is awarded a base salary of $195,000.