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Originally published February 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 28, 2008 at 6:46 AM

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UW's president turns down offer from Vanderbilt

University of Washington President Mark Emmert has turned down a chance to become perhaps the highest-paid college leader in the nation...

Seattle Times staff reporters

University of Washington President Mark Emmert has turned down a chance to become perhaps the highest-paid college leader in the nation.

Vanderbilt University, which is searching for a new chancellor, has approached Emmert several times recently. When Emmert was in New York on business last weekend, he met with Vanderbilt representatives. But Emmert said he remains happy in Seattle.

"They contacted me and encouraged me to be a candidate, but I declined to be a candidate," Emmert said Wednesday. "The fact is that I, like most successful presidents, get contacted all the time."

Emmert, 55, said he knows a number of the Vanderbilt board members and is also close friends with Vanderbilt's former chancellor, Gordon Gee, who was a mentor to Emmert when both were at the University of Colorado.

In recent years, Vanderbilt, a private, 11,500-student university in Nashville, Tenn., has ranked at or near the top among universities that pay their leaders the most. Gee's compensation package was $1.8 million during his last year at Vanderbilt, according to a list compiled annually by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Emmert's pay, meanwhile, was ranked third-highest among public university leaders last year, according to the Chronicle. A few days after that report came out, Emmert got a raise of more than $150,000, to put his annual compensation at $905,000.

John Isaacson, a founder of the firm Isaacson, Miller, which is conducting the Vanderbilt search, said the firm had met and talked on the phone with Emmert several times about the job, but that Emmert had turned them down.

Isaacson said his firm couldn't "drag him across the line."

Emmert has been courted by a number of leading universities in recent months — including the University of California system; the University of Wisconsin; and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Earlier approaches came from Cornell University and the Louisiana State University system. Emmert was chancellor at LSU before coming to the 43,000-student UW in 2004.

Dallas-based consultant Bill Funk, who has headed more than 300 presidential searches, including Emmert's move to the UW, said Emmert's relative youth and proven track record automatically put him on the short list for many presidential searches.

Since coming to the UW, Emmert has overseen a $2.5 billion fundraising campaign, launched new initiatives in global health, and expanded the university's ties to China.

"Mark would be very attractive to Vanderbilt, I would think," Funk said. "And it's one of the few places, public or private, that could provide an economic incentive."

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Funk added that when he'd tried to lure Emmert back to LSU, "he was steadfast that he'd made a commitment to stay in Washington."

UW regents contacted Wednesday said they hadn't heard about Vanderbilt's overtures.

"I would be shocked" if Emmert left, said Regent Jeff Brotman. "I think he's happy and I think he's paid a lot and I think he's got a lot of ties to the community."

Times news researcher David Turim contributed to this report.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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