Monday, February 27, 2012

"I rounded up,'' Bruininks said.

U execs are paid handsomely on their way out

Since retiring 18 months ago as chancellor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn Martin has collected more money from the U than she did in her last two years on the job.

One of nearly a dozen university executives to step down in the past two years, Martin was granted a two-month sabbatical, a 15-month "administrative transitional leave,'' a final deposit to her retirement fund, and a severance check. Total: $535,700.

Hers was the biggest in a series of compensation packages signed by former university President Robert Bruininks worth more than $2.8 million. The deals routinely granted top administrators lengthy paid leaves, then allowed them to return to faculty positions or depart the U's payroll.

A Star Tribune review of university documents shows that seven of 10 high-ranking officials in the Bruininks administration, including the former president himself, received at least a year off with pay at their executive salaries, as well as retirement and health insurance contributions. The deals often were vague about what the administrators would do on leave. Bruininks also repeatedly waived a university policy that executives repay their stipends in the event they left the U while on leave.

Many of the agreements rival in size the recent employment extension given to retiring U Athletic Director Joel Maturi, which caused several legislators to ask if the university is spending money wisely at a time when many Minnesota students and families are struggling to pay college costs.

... critics such as Dean Zerbe say the packages are a reckless use of taxpayer subsidies at a time when working families are "grinding'' under heavy tuition burdens.

"These are nothing but sweetheart deals and golden handshakes,'' said Zerbe, a lawyer who provided federal oversight of charities, including colleges and universities, for the Senate Finance Committee under Iowa's Sen. Chuck Grassley. "The Legislature and the governor should be demanding that they look at this across the board.''

Linda Cohen, chairwoman of the university's Board of Regents, said the governing board oversees the initial employment agreements for top executives, but "from then on, it becomes a management issue."

But, she said, the board has been discussing the creation of a committee focused on compensation to provide greater oversight. She called the practice of granting transitional leaves common and appropriate. The question is whether during that leave, administrators are paid at the salary of the administration post they are leaving or the faculty one they are taking, she said.

The university's current policy says the salary while on leave is negotiable but "salary and benefits are typically paid at the level of the assumed, or resumed, faculty or professional position rather than at the administrative salary level.''

The same issue arose about two years ago in North Carolina, where the state university system paid about $8 million in executive salaries to 117 administrators who either returned to the faculty or left the university.

North Carolina chancellors ordered reforms that scaled back leaves from one year to six months and made them payable at faculty salaries, not executive rates.

"People stay at universities for a long time these days, and their careers are often phases of things,'' said Carrier, 62, who got a 13-month, $229,000 leave to catch up on a faculty career she left more than 20 years ago. After three months of that leave, she took a job as special assistant to senior vice president Robert Jones. Her deal allows her to take the rest of that leave at a later date.

Charles Muscoplat, 63, president until next June 17 of a university corporation that manages the Dakota County real estate known as UMore Park, said he will use his one-year leave to chair a committee that helps commercialize faculty pharmaceutical inventions and work on clinical trials of a drug to treat patients with cystic fibrosis, among other projects. He will earn a salary of $251,500 while on leave, then return to faculty as a teacher and researcher.

"I do not anticipate taking a 'leave' meaning a leave from duties," he said by e-mail. "I understand this to mean a leave allowing me to return to my skill base in pharmaceutical, clinical trial, tech transfer and teaching."

At the same time, many of the "transition'' agreements worked out by Bruininks are flavored with language that goes beyond the purpose of academic readiness.

"The salary earned during your leave will not need to be repaid should you not return to your faculty position in the Law School,'' Bruininks wrote to Provost E. Thomas Sullivan, whose one-year leave will be cut short when he resigns from the U to become president of the University of Vermont on July 15. A U spokesman said Friday that Sullivan will resign from the U "no later than July 14.''

Sullivan's transition package at the U, which allowed for a payment of $340,750 over 12 months, also contains a special $75,000 retirement payment, documents show. Bruininks said he granted the benefit at his own discretion to reward the provost for staying on the job for about six months longer than originally planned. Under Sullivan's provost contract, the retirement payment should have been about half that size, according to documents.

"I rounded up,'' Bruininks said.

In Carrier's case, Bruininks gave her 13 months of paid leave and a 3.5 percent pay increase. This lifted her annual salary to $212,000 in time for the leave. Should she decide not to return to the faculty after 13 months of transitional leave, the requirement to repay the university for the leave is waived. If she does return to the faculty, Bruininks authorized two months of full-time summer salary to support her research and funds for a half-time research assistant.

"You have been an extraordinary leader and colleague, and I am honored to have had you as a member of my administration,'' Bruininks wrote in her transition agreement.

The documents vary in their discussion of work expectations.

For example, Bruininks gave Martin an expense account of $15,000 to entertain donors, work with alumni and spend on other university functions. Martin did not respond to calls and e-mails asking for comment.

Frank Cerra, former dean of the medical school and senior vice president for Health Sciences, received his administrative salary of $481,500 for a year on leave that ended Dec. 31, 2011. He said he organized a large-scale grant application and worked on two other grants before returning to a faculty position. During a two-year phased retirement with reduced hours and pay, the 69-year-old Cerra will largely be working on a history of the U's Academic Health Center, the amalgam of health schools he led from 1996 to 2010.

Martin received an extended "transitional'' leave even though she wasn't planning to return, Bruininks said. A straight retirement could have limited her to a severance payment of up to one year of her salary. But Bruininks wanted to compensate Martin for years of taking a $233,250 annual salary that had been repeatedly frozen and was lower than the standard pay for leaders of even smaller campuses.

Martin had the option of keeping her tenure and returning to the faculty, but Bruininks said he feared that with her strong personality, "she would have wanted to run it [the school] from the bleachers.''
"I'll just be honest about it,'' Bruininks said. "It was better for her and better for the campus and more cost-effective for the U.''
 Disgusting, simply disgusting...

 Some comments from readers:

All I can say is 'Wow.' My gosh. and we wonder why tuition is so off the charts spendy....

Filed under: "why college costs so much."

This is going on while all the unions at the U are on a step/pay freeze. I understand that admin will always command a higher salary, but the hardships of the many do not seem to influence how their pay and buyouts are determined. Maturi's buyout alone could make up the lost salary/raises of hundreds at the U who do well at their job.

What an embarrassing institution the U of MN has become over the past decades. ---- Whenever a person says "I'll just be honest about it," how many truths were they hiding before that point? NEVER trust someone who all of a sudden starts a sentence by saying 'Let me be honest here."

Academic arrogance at its' finest! These people live in their own little world, making up silly reasons to give themselves just a little bit more of the public every chance. And tuition keeps rising. Disgusting!

And they complain that they just don't get enough money from the State.

This is outrageous and must stop.

They need these packages to "retain talent." Who are they kidding, these folks are LEAVING, some for other higher paying jobs anyway. Just let them go.

Irresponsible and egregious

These are the kinds of issues that should make the procurement of taxpayer funding very difficult indeed.

The U has grown to be a an obese creature that relies on public funds to stuff its face. The admin people there should be embarrassed.

All this "reasoning and explaining" by the guilty parties is just an attempt to rationalize their unsavory actions. Anyone who would read this article would not need to have a college degree to understand these despicable golden parachutes. These people have absolutely no shame in their greedy actions while students struggle to even remain in college with the high cost of tuition.

These people are so out of touch with reality that it is simply pathetic. To call these payouts anything but gifts or golden parachutes is insulting to every reader's intelligence.

Bruininks rounded it up? What? Nice legacy to leave Bob.

Now I know why faculty salaries have been frozen for several years. The pigs must have their slop. But I'm still confused by why it takes a year to "retool" and why they need to be paid at the executive level to do so. Surely anyone who is qualified to be in academia can teach entry-level courses with just a little preparation and then move up from there.

As a U staff member, I am also outraged by the huge payouts to the executive administration staff upon leaving the University. The salaries of all faculty and staff have been frozen for several years- rightly so given the economic downturn. Yet, the University continues to coddle the higher admin ranks whose main contribution seems to be creating more red tape for the people who are actually doing something.

They can try and justify it all they want but it is nothing but greed by people that know they can get away with it because they aren't held accountable.  Bruininks says "I rounded up", well round up with your own money, not mine. Look what they did for Carrier. On top of everything else she got a 3.5% pay increase just in time for her leave. I haven't received a pay increase for two years but I am just happy to have my job.

If that comes under what is needed to retain the best then it is another example of a broken system corrupted by greed.

Pouring $250,000+ gravy on top of very mediocre careers is absurd. Only educrats could say these freeloaders are the "best and brightest" in society.

Why is the U hiring "the best and brightest"? Clearly, based on performance, the U is not in the top tier of schools in the country. Maybe the focus should be on hiring people who (1) are here for the long haul, and (2) accept that the goal of the U is to provide high quality graduates for MN. Let's stop competing with the rest of the country to be recognized as an elite top tier university. Instead, let's aim for what is best for MN.

Gosh, I hope this isn't the same "talent" that Wall Street needed to plunge us into the recession four years ago. Everyone involved with this should be grossly ashamed of themselves.

This makes me ill. My wife and I were both teachers who spent well over a thousand dollars a year to maintain classroom supplies and I had to raise thousands of dollars a year to maintain athletic programs. An outrage that is beyond belief---the worker bees suffer and slave away while the leadership grows fatter and fatter. I have now become a member of the 99%. Sickening!!!!!

I really tire of this "best and the brightest" argument, as far as pay and benefits. The reality is that many of these administrators are the best at ... working the system.

It is sad to see greedy universities forcing our children and many parents with suffocating debt. When will the media hold them accountable. If the university leaders cannot hold tuition in line with inflation I'd say they failed our children and families by forcing us to mortgage our future. Yet the universities consider this failed-track record worthy of massive bonuses?

Maybe the U needs set aside a few more million to hire more consultants to form a committee to study the problem.

This is criminal, at a time when students and their families have an increasing difficult time sacrificing to come up with tuition, ineffective leaders at the University of Minnesota are only interested in lining their own pockets. Take Muscoplat for example, he was put out to pasture about 5 years ago, from his position as Dean of College of Agriculture and Food Science, as so-called “Vice President of Statewide Strategic Services”. The people of this State deserve to know what he accomplished during this period. Where is the accountability? He states he will use $251,000 more of the taxpayers money so that he can “return to my skill base in pharmaceutical, clinical trial, tech transfer and teaching”, and “ he will use his one-year leave to chair a committee that helps commercialize faculty pharmaceutical inventions and work on clinical trials of a drug to treat patients with cystic fibrosis, among other projects” . Someone should be asking how effective he has been in this role at the University. We should be asking how effective is the “Pharmaceutical Commercialization Initiative” which Muscoplat played a key role in developing, or ask about the numerous pharmaceutical commercial ideas that he was involved in. The work done at UMore Park, could have been absorbed by others at a salary of $80,000 or should have been turned over to private interests. A closer examination would show that Muscoplats “arrangement” like many others, are only payback for loyalty to Cerra and Bruiniks, allowing them to create their own pet projects to keep them occupied and on airplanes, at our expense.

It's the administrators who are fleecing the system, not the teachers. My mom is a retired teacher from a 2-year college in the MnSCU system. My 27 year old supervisor at work who only has a Bachelors Degree makes more money than my mom, who has 2 masters degrees, made as a 36 year teacher...and MnSCU and the STATE told my mom she was paid too much for what she did. Meanwhile, the president of of her college, after being there for only about 6 months, received a $9,000 bonus because enrollment was up. Administrators only care about themselves. Everyone shows all this hate towards the teachers, but it's ADMINISTRATORS who are destroying education.

 "Gee, I wonder how many of these folks were members of one of those dastardly unions." ---- NONE. Administrators cannot be a part of a union because they are managers...and are firmly AGAINST unions in general. And, as you can see, this is why they don't want unions.

Quote ~ 'It's inaccurate, they said, to characterize the leaves as a year away from work'......NO, its not inaccurate to characterize these leaves as paid vacations because there are no rules, oversight or requirements. This is a misuse of public funds, but when you have the fox watching the hen house, what would you expect? Why on earth would you give an HR person a leave of absence with full executive pay?

I worked at the U/Fairview hospital for 35 years as a senior clinical scientist. When I asked for early retirement due to health issues it was denied. I guess I wasn't high enough on on the food chain.

Ms Martin, wipe that disgusting smile off your face - you should be ashamed. I have a son who works almost a 40 hr/week part time job to help pay for his education while fat cat retirees like you sail off to Tuscany. Disgusting!

I think they should be paid what they are worth. Unfortunately, there is a minimum wage law that prevents that.

The obscene thing here is that many if not most of the people on the front lines actually teaching students and doing the basic business of the University are getting paid peanuts compared to the administrators at the top. The deans and the presidents get golden parachutes, while the adjunct professors teaching 400+ students a year get their wages frozen and their health insurance taken away. The U needs to restore some balance to the way that salaries and benefits are distributed. Priority needs to be placed on quality teaching and research, not on administrating.

This is outrageous!!! And, they keep asking for more money from the State of Minnesota every year!!! This must stop!!!!

The claim these sweetheart deals are necessary to retain talent is nonsense. It is inconceivable to me that an academic who has been out of their field for decades, is nearing the end of their career, and who needs one or more years to get up to speed, would be in demand anywhere. The administrators who okayed these deals need to be fired.

From Minnpost Feb 16, 2011 - "Departing U of M President Bob Bruininks is generally pleased with Dayton’s budget and its lighter hand on education. Jena Ross quotes Bruininks on the Strib’s “Campus Connect” blog: “The Governor’s proposed funding level for the University means we will be able to hold any tuition increase for Minnesota students for the upcoming academic year at a very modest amount necessary to cover inflation. This lower tuition level will protect students and their families first, while we continue the hard work to cut our expenses and balance the University’s budget.”

The big lie here is that administrative bureaucrats in education are branded as rare "talent." Consultants and headhunters yield larger fees with larger packages, and the people making these hiring decisions think of themselves as "talent." Grown-up oversight is badly needed here.

So the taxpayer is paying for 62 and 70 year olds to take paid time off to sharpen their skills, for what? These people are past or near retirement age. Not saying they can't contribute to society but if they truly believe in youth and education they wouldn't continue to feed at the public trough. Volunteer your time and experience. 250,000 to 500,000, payouts and salaries. Disgusting!


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