NU’s Milliken: the Leona Helmsley of Nebraska, “Buying Your Own Home is ‘For the Little People,’ I’m a University President for Gosh Sakes!”

September 10, 2012


Foundation pads salaries of top NU leaders

July 12, 2009 12:00 am  •  NANCY HICKS / Lincoln Journal Star

University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken drives a 2004 Ford Explorer and takes folks to the Lincoln and Omaha country clubs, all compliments of the University of Nebraska Foundation.

Cars and club memberships are among the half dozen extras university administrators get that are funded by private donors.

In fact, last year the NU Foundation provided more than $390,000 in benefits to the four campus chancellors and NU president, based on the 2008 W-2 tax detail.

The foundation paid for about 21.6 percent of their total salary and fringe benefit packages, based on information provided the Lincoln Journal Star.

The NU Foundation’s help with administrators’ salaries and benefits allows the university to stay competitive and attract the best people, said NU Regent Jim McClurg of Lincoln.

It is the same reason that the foundation supports compensation for department chairs, he said.

“And it is done with complete transparency,” he said.

The fringe benefits and salary aid provided to NU’s top administrators is a small portion of the $130 million in foundation funds used by NU last year, he said.

The NU Foundation historically has provided extras for top administrators, including a deferred compensation plan representing 11.5 percent of the annual base salary. That money is invested, then paid to individuals periodically if they are still in the job.

The foundation also traditionally provides extra retirement income, supplies a car, helps with housing and other expenses, and pays for spousal travel and country club memberships.

Last year, the foundation began doing even more, supplementing top administrators’ salaries with about $136,000 a year.

The goal of the two-year program was to get the administrators’ salaries to the average for similar institutions.

The Lincoln Journal Star asked for foundation funded benefit information last week after Common Cause Nebraska member Jack Gould filed a complaint with the state’s sunshine committee, pointing out that Milliken did not report getting income from the foundation.

Gould filed a similar complaint last year after former Peru State College President Ben Johnson failed to report $455,572 in deferred payments he was receiving from the Peru State College Foundation.

State law requires many top state elected officials and employees to report any source of any income of more than $1,000 a year.

The state’s Accountability and Disclosure Commission fined Johnson $1,200 for failing to report the income.

But NU’s situation is different, according to Joel Pedersen, NU legal counsel.

Johnson got the money directly from the foundation, and he had not disclosed the deferred compensation deal to the state college trustees.

All NU Foundation money goes to the University and is then provided to the administrators, so there is no direct payment to the leaders, Pedersen said.

In addition, NU regents are aware of the benefits, Pedersen said.

Pedersen has advised NU top administrators, including Milliken, that they do not need to report the foundation-related income to the state.

Gould, who represents Common Cause Nebraska, believes the state should require even more specific reports on foundation-funded perks to administrators, beyond merely reporting they get more than $1,000 in income.

Even the information given to the newspaper isn’t a “full view of the value of the benefits,” he said.

For example, the taxable benefit of a car or a country club membership is not the actual value of the car or membership, but rather a number based on the amount of times the administrator uses it for personal use.

“But they did give you something,” said Gould, who says he’s often faced road blocks trying to get specific information on administrators’ foundation-related benefits.

NU leaders, however, say the information is available online in the contracts for each top administrator.

Gould says it is particularly important for taxpayers to understand the foundation-funded perks during this recession, when many students are having trouble finding money for tuition.

“This is money that could be used for other things,” he said.

Giving money to administrators because we are afraid we are going to lose them is saying that administrators are more important than students.

State leaders need to remember the foundation funded perks when these administrators come down to the Capitol … “crying the blues and asking for more state tax dollars,” he said.

Gould admits that NU isn’t unique. Top college administrators across the country get deferred compensation, cars and other perks.

The Iowa State University president got a car from private sources and a house from the state, and received almost $100,000 in retirement and deferred compensation, according to a 2008 Chronicle of Higher Education survey.

But just because everyone does it doesn’t make it right, according to Gould.

“Why should these men live so high and yet others” – like many faculty and high school teachers – “are struggling along.”

The goal is to educate kids, so they can have a better life. “We don’t expect leadership to milk the system for their own benefit,” Gould said.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 473-7250 or

One Comment on “NU’s Milliken: the Leona Helmsley of Nebraska, “Buying Your Own Home is ‘For the Little People,’ I’m a University President for Gosh Sakes!””

  1. Educator Says:

    This was published in 2009, and there was apparently no outrage. Now the house issue. The books should be opened for the NU Foundation!


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