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Director's salary makes chemists see red

Nature volume 430, page 957 (26 August 2004) | Download Citation

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Executive tops science society pay league

Washington

The size of the pay package awarded to a former executive director of the American Chemical Society (ACS), which was nearly $768,000 in 2002, has led to protests from members.

According to income-tax papers filed by the society, John Crum received compensation of around $721,000 in 2002, the penultimate year of his 20-year tenure. Crum was also rewarded by roughly $33,000 in contributions to benefit plans and a $14,000 travel expense account, taking his pay far above the directors of other scientific societies such as the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (see chart).

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Ten chemists, including Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, published a protest letter in the 9 August issue of Chemical and Engineering News, the weekly magazine of the ACS. “It is difficult to believe that ACS could not find a capable executive director for less than three-quarters of a million dollars a year,” they wrote.

“To many of our members some of the pay of our executives really looks off the scale, and I understand that people can feel that way,” says James Burke, who chairs the society's board of directors, which approves executive salaries. But he says that pay at the ACS, considered to be the world's largest scientific group, is in line with other organizations of similar size.

“The American Chemical Society is an integrated and complex organization,” says Burke. “We have to make sure that we are competitive with private publishers, such as Elsevier and Wiley.” He adds that the salaries of ACS executives are analysed every two years by outside consultants and that they are consistently found to be in the appropriate range for such an organization. Commercial publishers do not disclose salary details, but executive directors are thought to earn in the region of $500,000 to $1.5 million.

Robert Bergman, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the lead author of the complaint letter, disagrees with Burke. A consultant being paid to determine the salary of a client might be inclined to choose the highest salary possible, he says. “I feel that this whole arrangement has a built in conflict of interest,” he adds.

Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a non-profit charity watchdog in Chicago, Illinois, says that the pay may seem unusually high, but it is acceptable if the ACS can prove that the salary is competitive. “The membership may be in an uproar,” he says, “but the Internal Revenue Service considers a salary reasonable if it is comparable to what gets paid in either a non-profit or a for-profit job.”

Burke expects the issue to be raised at the ACS's annual meeting, held this week in Philadelphia. “I would expect that some members will want some more clarification,” he says. “And we'll do our best to provide that.”

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