February 28, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

College president millionaire’s club growing in South Carolina

University of South Carolina


As the new University of South Carolina president, Robert Caslen likely will be paid far more than the $650,000 salary that was reported after the school’s board of trustees in a split vote Friday hired him to run the state’s biggest university.

Caslen, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and former West Point military academy president, succeeds the retiring Harris Pastides, whose total annual compensation, according to his latest income-disclosure statement, was nearly $1.15 million.

Pastides’ total pay package jumped by more than $464,000, or nearly 68%, since 2014, The Nerve found in a review of his annual statements of economic interests (SEIs) filed annually in March with the State Ethics Commission.

University spokesman Jeff Stensland could not immediately provide any updated figures when contacted this week, referring The Nerve to The Chronicle of Higher Education, which listed his current executive compensation at $1,046,899. Stensland also couldn’t immediately say whether the university plans to retain Pastides as a paid consultant after he retires at the end of this month.

At least two other university presidents in South Carolina are close to joining – if not already in – the seven-figure club.

Clemson University president James Clements reported total compensation of $970,396 on his SEI filed in March; The Chronicle of Higher Education, described on its website as the “nation’s largest newsroom dedicated to covering colleges and universities,” lists his current compensation at $1,016,773. University spokesman Mark Land did not respond to written requests this week from The Nerve seeking comment.

Most of Clements’ and Pastides’ total compensation comes from well-funded, nonprofit university foundations. Their main foundation income jumped by about 25.6% and 103.5%, respectively, since 2014, The Nerve’s review found. Over the last 10 academic years, in-state, undergraduate tuition and required fees increased by about 35% and 38% at Clemson and USC, respectively, S.C. Commission on Higher Education records show.

According to their most-recent SEIs, Pastides’ income from university educational foundations totaled $823,946, in addition to his $325,031 state salary. Clements listed his wages and other taxable benefits from the university’s foundation at a collective $627,317, on top of his $312,530 salary and $30,549 in taxable benefits from the university.

At the Medical University of South Carolina, president David Cole’s base pay is $974,795, plus he is eligible to receive “additional performance-based pay” of up to $150,000, along with $80,000 in deferred compensation, university spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said in an email this week to The Nerve.

Asked why Cole, a surgeon and former chairman of MUSC’s Department of Surgery, listed only a university salary of $276,065 on his most-recent SEI, Woolwine said Dr. Cole’s annual salary “comes from state dollars and MUSC practice plan funds,” adding the plan funds are based on “overall (MUSC) patient revenues,” and that the State Ethics Commission doesn’t require the reporting of that income amount.

“We follow the instructions on the State Ethics form, which requires reporting of governmental and foundation money,” Woolwine said, noting that the MUSC practice plan funds are not foundation income. On his latest SEI, Cole listed “MUSC physicians” as a private income source, though he didn’t report the income amount.

Reporting violations?

State ethics law requires the “chief administrative official” of a state agency, including public college and university presidents, to report to the State Ethics Commission the amounts of “substantial monetary value received from a governmental entity.” Under a change that took effect in 2017, the law also generally requires that filers report the sources, though not amounts, of private income.

The Nerve’s review of SEIs filed January through March of this year by the presidents of nine public colleges found that six of them – USC, Clemson, The Citadel, Coastal Carolina University, Francis Marion University and Winthrop University – reported foundation income. The state Supreme Court in 1991 ruled that a USC foundation was a public body under the state’s open-records law “due to its activities involving public funds.”

In an email Monday to The Nerve, College of Charleston spokesman Mike Robertson said college president Andrew Hsu receives an annual state salary of $241,782 and a $200,000 yearly “Foundation supplement.” After The Nerve pointed out that Hsu didn’t report the amount of his foundation income on his most-recent SEI, though his immediate predecessor, former state Sen. Glenn McConnell, did so, Robertson in a follow-up reply said, “We are in the process of revising our filing.”

Lander University spokeswoman Megan Varner Price in an email Tuesday to The Nerve said university president Richard Cosentino is paid a $211,285 state salary, plus receives an annual $100,000 “supplement” from the university’s foundation.

Cosentino also is “authorized to use” to use a foundation-owned Jeep Grand Cherokee and also receives a $40,000 yearly housing allowance, she said, noting that the former state Budget and Control Board authorized the allowance in 2011 after the campus president’s house had to be “demolished due to significant structural issues.”

Contacted Tuesday by The Nerve, State Ethics Commission executive director Meghan Walker said the state Ethics Act doesn’t address whether foundation payments and benefits are considered public income. Asked whether the commission considers it public income, she replied, “I can’t answer that,” directing The Nerve to submit a list of university presidents who reported receiving foundation income to determine if those amounts are “public sources or private sources of income.”

“All appear to be private sources of income,” Walker said in a follow-up email Wednesday.

Francis Marion University spokesman Matt McColl told The Nerve that university president Luther Carter “absolutely believes it’s an obligation to report income and other compensation from all sources related to his employment as president.” His latest SEI shows he received a total of $374,400 in salary and an automobile allowance from the university’s foundation, on top of his $185,477 state salary.

Caroline Craig Overcash, Winthrop University’s director of internal audit and compliance, said in an email that university president Daniel Mahony has “followed what other presidents had done on their SEIs and preferred to err on the side of over reporting.” Mahony’s SEI filed in February shows $180,069 in state salary and $175,280 in collective salary and retirement contributions from the university’s foundation; Overcash said his current annual university salary is $183,313.

The Nerve’s review found that S.C. State University president James Clark and state Technical College System president Tim Hardee did not file SEIs this year with the State Ethics Commission. Clark’s current salary is $195,000, while Hardee receives a $221,287 salary, according to the state salary database.

Technical College System spokeswoman Kelly Steinhilper in an email Tuesday to The Nerve said Hardee is not required to file an SEI “because he receives no benefits or supplements beyond his state salary.” Chaundra Mikell, spokeswoman for S.C. State, couldn’t immediately say why Clark has filed no SEIs, though she said she would check into the matter. No response was received by publication of this story.

S.C. State and Coastal Carolina universities directed The Nerve to submit formal open-records requests for a breakdown of all compensation sources for their respective presidents.

Plenty of perks

None of the college websites reviewed by The Nerve shows a breakdown of all income sources and benefits received by their respective presidents. And they typically receive perks that citizens often aren’t aware of.

Take, for example, Citadel president Glenn Walters. A compensation breakdown provided Tuesday to The Nerve shows a current total package of $632,768 in salary and benefits, including:

  • $187,500 – state salary;
  • $98,750 – supplemental income from The Citadel Foundation;
  • $98,750 – supplemental income from The Citadel Trust;
  • $96,250 – deferred compensation;
  • $39,768 – state or optional retirement program contribution;
  • $32,100 – country club initiation fees (one-time payment);
  • $30,000 – annual discretionary fund (per contract);
  • $16,800 – car stipend;
  • $13,850 – health stipend;
  • $10,000 – disability insurance (pending, estimated amount); and
  • $9,000 – country club dues.

The Nerve asked Citadel spokesman Zach Watson about what types of income and benefits that the State Ethics Commission required to be reported on Walters’ SEI, but was directed to contact the commission.

In South Carolina, the Legislature exerts considerable authority over public universities and colleges. For example, in addition to setting state funding, lawmakers largely control the appointment of members to those schools’ governing boards.

And the legislatively controlled state Agency Head Salary Commission sets salaries for university and college presidents. Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who is the commission chairman and the longtime Senate Finance Committee chairman, and Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, who is the House Ways and Means Committee chairman; each control four appointments, while the governor appoints three members.

Leatherman’s daughter, Karen Leatherman, sits on the Francis Marion University Board of Trustees, of which Sen. Leatherman is a trustee emeritus, while Smith’s father, Dr. G. Murrell Smith Sr., is a member of the MUSC Board of Trustees, as The Nerve has previously reported.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

Nerve stories are free to reprint and repost with permission by and credit to The Nerve.

We need your help to continue our mission of holding government officials accountable! As part of the South Carolina Policy Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, we rely on donations to operate. Please consider giving today so we can keep bringing accountability to government. It’s your power, and it’s time to take it back!
The Nerve