DAYTON, Ohio - Five medical professors and two coaches at Ohio State University received bonuses topping $1 million in 2011, most of them more than double the size of their base earnings, according to a newspaper review of public records.
The bonuses are among about $25.6 million total given to more than 4,000 employees, a jump of nearly 89 percent from the $13.6 million handed out in 2010 to about 1,700 employees, the Dayton Daily News reported in its Sunday editions.
Basketball coach Thad Matta was the highest earner, with a bonus of about $1.1 million boosting his annual pay to about $2.2 million. The second-highest paid employee was a heart specialist and associate professor at the university medical center who received the most generous bonus -- nearly $1.4 million -- to earn more than $2 million for the year.
The scale of the bonuses "is not the norm in higher education," said Richard Vedder, director of the nonprofit Center for College Affordability and Productivity, based in Washington.
"I have never seen anything like this -- never," Vedder, who also is a professor of economics at Ohio University in Athens, told the newspaper.
Ohio State officials defended the bonuses, noting that they are not paid with tax or tuition dollars, but from the self-funded medical center and athletics department. They said the top medical center bonuses were given to the physicians to commemorate five years of hard work.
"These five physicians were hired five years ago to build a nationally respected program in cardiac electrophysiology. Today, that program is the largest in the state and treats patients from throughout a multistate region," said Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch, adding that the school was ranked 17th among public universities and colleges in the latest U.S. News & World Report's Best Colleges rankings.
Kevin Holtsberry, president of the fiscally conservative Buckeye Institute, said the university should be held to explain the large bonuses.
"I think the public is right to be skeptical and deserves to have some explanation of why these kinds of numbers are being paid to what should be public servants at a public institution," he said.
Along with Matta, former football coach Jim Tressel is on the list of those receiving the big bonuses. He was paid $1.8 million in 2011, including his $1 million bonus.
Across the university, Ohio State's payroll jumped 7.6 percent to $1.8 billion, topping the 3.5 percent tuition increase the university board authorized last year. Officials said part of the jump is due to the addition of a new physicians group at the growing medical center.