The University of Wisconsin-Madison recently approved to pay its next chancellor up to $522,000 a year, which would move the university from near-lowest to the middle of the pack among what other Big Ten public institutions pay their leaders.
UW regents were concerned about attracting top talent by offering a salary near the bottom of what other leaders of Big Ten universities make.
Meanwhile, employee unions said pay for workers and the chancellor are going in opposite directions. Workers said that unlike the chancellor's, their pay isn't getting better.
Union president David Ahrens represents thousands of UW faculty and staff. He said their real income has been going down for a decade because of furloughs and cutbacks.
The situation at other Big Ten universities is mixed, but high pay for the people who head those schools is universal.
The next chancellor of UW-Madison could have a salary ranked fifth among the Big Ten's 11 public institutions, not including Northwestern, which is private.
Salaries range from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln chancellor's $341,000 salary to Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee's salary of $860,000, although Gee's total compensation is more like $2 million when his pricy perks are factored in.
UW-Madison Interim Chancellor David Ward makes $437,000 and that's not changing. He gets a car and free housing, but his compensation is still on the low end of the Big Ten. That's because some schools boost their leaders' pay with deferred compensation plans or hefty retirement benefits. Deferred compensation is against state law in Wisconsin, and Ward gets standard health and retirement packages.
The next chancellor will get up to $522,000, no doubt boosting the number of applications and, as the UW regents argue, the talent pool.
Ahrens said the incoming chancellor will have work to do to smooth things over with employees who have faced declining salaries.
Ahrens said he believes the perks of leading UW-Madison are enough right now for good candidates.
"(Those candidates) are quite capable and quite willing to work for $460,000 a year, (with) fantastic free housing, car, staff, cook, everything else you can think of in the world," Ahrens said.
A spokesman for the UW System said the new pay is right in line with what chancellors make at peer universities.
UW's pay was last increased in 2008 and other schools have since raised theirs, the spokesman said.
And not all of it comes from tax dollars -- $100,000 of the chancellor's salary comes from the UW Foundation.
The firm conducting the search for the next chancellor is also set for get a bonus. The headhunters get an amount equal to one-third of the new chancellor's salary. For the $60,000 increase, the search firm would get some $20,000 more.