May 21, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

2,000-Plus State Employees Earn Six-Figure Salaries

MoneyWant a high-paying career – at taxpayer expense – in South Carolina? Try higher education.

As of June 1, the top-10 earners among state agencies – all college or university officials in academics, administration or athletics – were taking home annual salaries ranging from $312,066 to $400,000, according to a state salary database maintained by the S.C. Budget and Control Board.

As a comparison, that’s easily more than what the vice president of United States earns ($230,700).

More than 15,500 state employees were making at least $50,000 annually as of June 1, according to the salary database. Under the state’s open-records law, public agencies must disclose upon request the exact amount of salaries that fall in that category.

The $50,000-plus salary list likely is larger because the Budget and Control Board’s Office of Human Resources, according to the BCB’s website, doesn’t oversee 18 state agencies, including, for example, the state-owned utility Santee Cooper.

Santee Cooper president and CEO Lonnie Carter, for example, earned $429,406 in salary last year, The Nerve reported then.

The six-figure salary club included 2,137 members as of June 1, 197 of whom had listed annual salaries of $200,000 or more, according to The Nerve’s review of the BCB’s salary database.

All of those listed in the database as earning at least $200,000 were employed at colleges or universities, with the state’s three research institutions – the University of South Carolina, Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina – dominating that group.

Since the 2008-09 academic year, MUSC has raised its tuition by 22 percent for full-time, in-state undergraduate students, with Clemson and USC’s main Columbia campus hiking tuition 19.5 percent and 18.7 percent, respectively, during that period, according to the S.C. Commission on Higher Education’s website.

Most of the top-10 earners work, or were employed, at USC, the state’s flagship university, according to the salary database. Several are or were from Clemson; one works at MUSC; and another is employed at the College of Charleston.

At least one of them – Steve Spurrier, USC’s high-profile head football coach – makes much more than what is listed in the salary database, which doesn’t include certain income sources.

Below is the top-10 list, according to the salary database:

  • Doug Wojcik, men’s head basketball coach, College of Charleston –  $400,000;
  • Jay Moskowitz, professor, USC – $392,135;
  • Durwood Bach, department chair, MUSC – $386,746;
  • Eric Hyman, former athletics director, USC – $384,065;
  • Martin Morad, professor, USC – $373,700;
  • Claude Lilly, former dean, Clemson – $367,155;
  • James Bottum, vice provost, Clemson – $356,033;
  • Steve Spurrier, head football coach, USC –  $350,000;
  • Prakash Nagarkatti,  vice president, USC –  $350,000; and
  • Mitzi Nagarkatti, department chair, USC – $312,066.

Several of the top earners told The Nerve that their listed salaries in the database include other sources of income besides state funds.

In February, the USC Board of Trustees gave Spurrier a nice raise, boosting his guaranteed annual pay to $3.3 million, according to a story in The State newspaper. Under Armour, which is under contract to supply athletic apparel to USC, and IMG College, which holds media and advertising rights to the university, covers most of the guaranteed salary for Spurrier, the newspaper reported then.

In comparison, USC President Harris Pastides was earning $265,000 annually in base salary as of June 1, according to the state salary database, though other media have reported his total compensation is more than twice that amount with private foundation funds.

The Nerve in February submitted a request to USC under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act seeking a breakdown of all sources of income for Spurrier and 24 other top-paid university officials.

Although the law requires public agencies to respond within 15 business days of a request, USC spokesman Wes Hickman didn’t initially respond to The Nerve’s request until more than a month later.

“I know it’s being worked on and I’ll be in touch once I have more info,” Hickman said in a March 26 email to The Nerve.

Neither Hickman nor any other university official has responded since then to The Nerve’s FOIA request. Hickman didn’t respond to several phone and email messages left for him this week by The Nerveregarding Spurrier’s salary.

USC officials aren’t the only school officials who are tight-lipped about their top-paid employees. Doug Wojcik, who in April became the men’s head basketball coach at the College of Charleston, declined comment on his salary when contacted this week by The Nerve.

At $400,000, Wojcik’s annual salary matches President Barack Obama’s.

Whether he will receive other sources of income as the head basketball coach wasn’t immediately known. College of Charleston spokesman Mike Robertson said he didn’t know when contacted Tuesday by The Nerve; when pressed further, he instructed a reporter to submit a Freedom of Information request for the information.

‘The best people’

While some higher-education folks are making over a quarter million annually, most South Carolinians don’t make even close to six figures.

South Carolina’s per-capita personal income in 2011 was at $33,673, which was ranked 46th in the nation, according to a study by the University of New Mexico. The Nerve’s review of the state salary database found that the median salary of the 15,614 state employees earning at least $50,000 as of June 1 was $65,607, which means half of the group was earning more than that amount.

So why do some college and university officials in the Palmetto State earn six-figure salaries?

USC economics professor McKinley Blackburn says high pay compensates the responsibilities of the job and attracts the best candidates.

“Use the high salary to get the best people,” he told The Nerve. “People like Eric Hyman and Steve Spurrier, it’s pretty clear what they do is financially profitable for the university.”

Hyman was USC’s athletics director before leaving in the summer to head Texas A&M’s athletic department.

(Claude Lilly, who also made the top-10 list as a dean at Clemson, is now president of Presbyterian College.)

Blackburn defended higher pay in the education world in part by contending that those employees are paid to educate others who later become employed, thus strengthening the economy.

Blackburn’s annual pay as of June 1 was $113,390, according to the state salary database, slightly higher than Gov. Nikki Haley’s salary of $106,078. Haley’s pay ranked 1,739th out of the 15,614 salaries listed in the database.

Big Pay for Big Results?

Besides sports and education, medical research also brings in revenue to universities, Blackburn said, noting, “Those are areas where you have someone strong in research and attracting grants.”

USC health services policy professor Jay Moskowitz – the second-highest earner in the state salary database at $392,135 – brings in big research money to the state, according to a prepared statement provided this week to The Nerve. Moskowitz is president and CEO of Health Sciences South Carolina, an organization that focuses on research and clinical data to improve health in the state.

In its prepared statement, Health Sciences said Moskowitz is responsible for administering a multimillion-dollar grant to “achieve adoption of electronic medical records by over 1,000 primary care physicians throughout the state of South Carolina.”

He also serves as the “principal investigator of over $40 million in funding from the Duke Endowment and Federal Government agencies,” according to the statement.

The statement said Moskowitz is “uniquely qualified to the lead the work of Health Sciences South Carolina,” noting he has more than 40 years of experience “leading research, developing policy and administering programs” at the National Institutes of Health, Wake Forest University and Pennsylvania State University.

Mitzi Nagarkatti, who earns $312,066 annually as head of USC’s Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology Department, told The Nerve that she has brought in $30 million in grants since she got the job in 2005.

With that money, Nagarkatti said, her department has recruited graduate students, junior faculty and technology personnel to work on research. She pointed out that in 2004, USC’s pathology department ranked 81st nationally; last year, the school moved up to the 35th spot.

“We’ve done tremendously well,” she said. “I’m proud of our achievements.”

Nagarkatti, whose husband, Prakash Nagarkatti, ranked one step above her in the top-10 salary list, said her annual salary is a combination of “incentives,” “administrative supplements,” grants and base pay.

She also said similar department heads at other universities have salaries of more than $400,000, adding, “I’m very below what other chairs make.”

Nagarkatti wasn’t shy about what she’s done. In fact, she said it shouldn’t be kept a secret.

“We should get the word out,” she said. “We’ve done well here.”

Investigative reporter Rick Brundrett contributed to this story. Reach Legette at (803) 254-4411 or

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