Editor's note: The story has been updated.
Compensation packages for 16 top University of Texas System system officials and university and medical school presidents included about $2 million in bonuses, according to documents obtained by The Texas Tribune.
That amount, approved by UT System regents last month, will likely rankle some top state legislators who have been critical of executive compensation at public universities. But the spending actually appears to include some cuts compared to past years. Many top administrators, including University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves, turned down bonuses, records show.
Fenves was on track to receive $150,000, records indicate. The regents also approved almost $60,000 to University of Texas at El Paso President Diana Natalicio, but she too declined the money, according to a system spokesperson.
The biggest bonus authorized by regents was $841,500 for Mark Houser, chief executive officer of University Lands, which manages 2.1 million acres in West Texas. Houser's salary for the 2017 fiscal year is over $1.5 million, so his total compensation for the year will be just under $2.4 million. Houser oversees management of land that has produced billions in oil and gas revenue, which goes to the endowments of the UT and Texas A&M University systems.
Besides Houser, the biggest bonuses went to the people who oversee the UT System medical schools. Regents approved $208,000 in incentive pay for Dr. Ronald DePinho, president of the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and $186,000 for UT Southwestern Medical Center President Daniel Podolsky. DePinho's total pay will be just over $2 million, while Podolsky's will be just under $1.5 million.
The UT System has six medical schools in all. Those presidents will all receive larger bonuses than last year. Combined, they will bring in about $841,000 in incentive pay.
Meanwhile, regents approved a combined $315,000 in incentive pay for five total presidents.
University of Texas of the Permian Basin President David Watts will receive just over $40,000, and University of Texas at San Antonio President Ricardo Romo will receive just over $50,000. Both of those amounts are slight reductions compared to last year.
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey received the biggest increase. His bonus for the 2017 fiscal year was set at $102,000, compared to $54,000 last year.
University of Texas at Arlington President Vistasp Karbhari was given $77,600 in incentive pay, and University of Texas at Tyler President Rodney Mabry was approved for about $44,500. Those are both slight increases over last year.
UT System officials said bonuses are based on annual performance goals. The administrators who meet those goals can receive incentive pay totaling 15 percent of their annual salaries. If they fall short, they receive a smaller percentage. If they exceed the goal, they can receive a slightly higher percentage.
The Tribune submitted written questions last week about the appropriateness of the bonus amounts, or whether they had any concern about a backlash from lawmakers. A UT System spokeswoman said regents who approved the compensation were unavailable for comment.
But they did note that almost all system administrators turned down bonuses this year. Many, including Vice Chancellor for External Relations Randa Safady, Vice Chancellor of Business Affairs Scott Kelley and General Counsel Daniel Sharphorn, received bonuses in the five figures last year, according to Legislative Budget Board data.
The system leaders turned down that money as the system has worked to reduce administrative costs through hiring freezes and buyouts.
"Even with these actions, it is possible that we may have a reduction in force in the coming months," said system spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo. "Given the current environment, some of UT System's senior leaders expressed their willingness to forgo incentive compensation pay."
The system is also facing pressure from legislators, who have criticized UT and other university systems for raising tuition in recent years. Executive compensation at the state's universities has climbed significantly in recent years. That has contributed to only a tiny portion of the rising cost of higher education in the state. But some state leaders have expressed frustration with the optics.
“If you go into higher education,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said earlier this year, “you don’t do it to get rich and make a million dollars per year.”
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Disclosure: The University of Texas System, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas at El Paso, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, University of Texas at San Antonio, University of Texas of the Permian Basin, Texas A&M and the MD Anderson Cancer Center have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.