Zeppos, Nikias on Top 10 Highest-Paid College Leaders List in America

Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos and University of Southern California President Chrysostomos C.L. Max Nikias are among the top 10 highest paid college leaders in the United States, and rank among the most prominent-Greek Americans in the country.

Columbia’s Lee Bollinger ranks first with earnings of $4.6 million while Zeppos, a lawyer who started his career in Washington, D.C., came in fifth at $2.1 million and Nikias, 63, a Cypriot who was graduated from the National Technical University in Athens and is known for his fundraising abilities, was 10th at $1.48 million.

The list compiled by CNN Money, showed that college presidents pay keeps rising even during a debate on whether college should be made more affordable and as many students are crushed by years of paying back school loans.

Median compensation rose nearly 6% to $436,429, according to a new report from the Chronicle of Higher Education. It looks at salary and benefits for leaders at 497 private, non-profit colleges during 2013, the latest year data is available.

Consultants say that there are a “finite amount of people” for these jobs and it’s not uncommon for college Presidents to hop from one institution to another, said Sandhya Kambhampati, a reporter at the Chronicle.

The relatively high pay of college Presidents generally represents a small amount of a school’s budget. “The salaries of college presidents generally have a small effect on tuition at the vast majority of institutions,” said Robert Kelchen, a Professor of  Higher Education at Seton Hall University.

And despite some big pay packages, the President isn’t always the top earner, with some football coaches above them – including at Vanderbilt, known more for academics than sports.

No one thing can be blamed for rising college costs, Kelchen said.

Besides Zeppos and Bollinger, the only others to make more than $2 million, through the 2013 reporting period, were Amy Gutmann at the University of Pennsylvania, Nido Qubein at High Point University, and Richard Joel at Yeshiva University.


Zeppos joined the faculty at Vanderbilt, in Nashville, Tenn., in 1987 and has held a number of posts including Professor of Law, Associate Dean of the Law School, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, Vice Chancellor for Institutional Planning and Advancement, and, in 2001, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

He has also written widely on legislation, administrative law, and professional responsibility. He has served as the chair of the Scholars Committee on the Federal Judiciary and as chair of the Rules Advisory Committee of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Zeppos serves on the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board, a program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Fulbright Canada.


Nikias, an electrical enginer who received his Master’s and Ph.D from the State University of New York at Buffalo, has shot up the academic hierarchy ladder and keeps his interest in Athenian drama and democracy.

Ironically, the man he replaced as USC President, Steven Sample, is also an electrical engineer and served as President of SUNY-Buffalo from 1982 to 1991, the last year being when Nikias left Northeastern University to move to USC.


Before that, Nikias was on the faculty of the University of Connecticut. He became a U.S. citizen in 1989. He was named USC’s President in 2010.

He was founding director of two national research centers at USC: the NSF-funded Integrated Media Systems Center and the Department of Defense (DoD)-funded Center for Research on Applied Signal Processing. The DoD has adopted a number of his innovations and patents in sonar, radar, and communication systems.

As President, Nikias has written frequently about a range of nationally significant topics, including the value of—and access to—higher education; the future of online education; the continued importance of the arts and humanities; and the role of elite research universities, particularly as economic drivers.

In 2011, Nikias announced a $6 billion fundraising campaign, at the time the largest in higher education history. In his first five years he’s brought in 27 lucrative gifts, four more than $100 million each and 60 percent of the funds he raised came from non-graduates, leading the Chronicle of Higher Education to call him “a prodigious fundraiser.”

In recognition of his efforts to renew USC’s athletic heritage, The New York Times selected Nikias as one of a small number of national figures “who make sports’ little corner of the world a better place.”

Nikias was awarded the Aristeia medal, the Republic of Cyprus’ highest honor in the letters, arts, and sciences, the USC Black Alumni Association’s Thomas Kilgore Service Award, the Los Angeles Police Museum’s Jack Webb Award, and earned a commendation for cutting-edge research from the governor of California.


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