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A pricey - and familiar - perk for new UMass head

Year’s sabbatical after 5 on the job

By Todd Wallack and Mary Carmichael
Globe Staff / February 4, 2012
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The University of Massachusetts has promised its new president, Robert Caret, a sabbatical of up to one year at his full presidential salary when he steps down, a controversial perk like the one awarded to his predecessor, Jack Wilson.

In addition, UMass is considering providing similar sabbaticals to outgoing chancellors of the UMass campuses, a benefit university officials called common in academia but that appears to be more generous than is offered by many other public colleges. UMass has promised chancellors yearlong sabbaticals if they return to teaching, but has not specified the pay.

Caret’s employment agreement guarantees him a six-month sabbatical if he remains on the job for three years and a yearlong sabbatical if he stays for five years. Caret earns $425,000, but his contract, signed last year, calls for raises of $25,000 in each of the next two years.

The contract also provides for a $60,000 housing allowance, a $63,750 retirement annuity, an additional $250,000 in deferred compensation set aside over the next three years, and annual performance bonuses of up to 15 percent of his salary.

If Caret joins the UMass faculty after his presidency, he will make at least three-fourths of his presidential salary in his first year as a professor and at least half after that.

If Caret is fired without cause, he would be entitled to the remainder of his salary under his employment pact, the right to become a full-time faculty member at UMass Lowell at a reduced salary, and to take any sabbatical he has earned.

Details of Caret’s deal, on top of Wilson’s, are sparking complaints among faculty, students, and some lawmakers.

“At a time when students and parents are struggling to pay tuition and fees, these salaries are another example of misplaced priorities,’’ said Tess George, an adjunct professor at UMass Lowell. “The difference between these payouts and the salaries earned by adjunct faculty is astounding.’’

Caret said that the package is justified.

“Given the facts, reasonable people understand that sabbaticals are earned as part of a compensation package,’’ he said Thursday. “They are not a gift.’’

“Leaders and their teams generate hundreds of millions of critical nonstate dollars,’’ he added. “I understand the concerns, but the alternative is worse - mediocre leadership that will not provide the institutions we need and desire. . . . Do I have a sensitivity about this issue? Yes. Apologies? No.’’

He added that his two previous employers, Towson University in Maryland and San Jose State University in California, also offered him the perk.

Senator Eileen Donoghue, vice chairwoman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education, said the university had responded well to the committee’s inquiries on the issue, providing a 123-page document outlining how Wilson’s pay was determined. But she added that a hearing might still be necessary.

“Where we go from here is another question, especially in light of the fiscal times we’re in and what students are facing,’’ Donoghue said. “Everything adds up. As a matter of policy, does this make any sense right now?’’

UMass has defended the sabbaticals, largely on the basis of a report commissioned by a private compensation consultant who compared its practices with those of 16 other universities. That report referred not to UMass’s standard list of peer universities but to a list the consultant compiled based on his professional opinion, taking into account such factors as enrollment, total operating budget, and total assets.

“We have reviewed these matters in depth and are confident that the compensation provided to our top administrative leaders is in the mainstream and is directly comparable to the compensation received by administrators at other major public universities across the nation,’’ said James Karam, chairman of the UMass board of trustees. “With all of the challenges that public universities now face, institutions like UMass need to be able to attract and retain skillful, creative leaders.’’

But a Globe survey of 30 major public universities and systems that UMass typically compares itself with or those in states with a similar population found that yearlong sabbaticals at presidential pay are not the norm. Of that group, two said they typically offer departing chancellors and presidents a paid sabbatical of a year or longer at their administrative salaries, eight sometimes do, and 20 have generally not offered the perk.

For instance, the sprawling University of California system routinely offers fully paid, yearlong sabbaticals to presidents and chancellors after they leave office. But, typically, colleges and university systems either give outgoing presidents much shorter leaves, pay them significantly less than they earned as president, or offer no paid leaves at all.

The Nebraska State College System, one of the schools on an official UMass list of peers, said “it does not provide any special paid or sabbatical leave’’ to outgoing presidents. The University of Colorado, another peer system, said its last president stepped down and taught briefly but did not receive a sabbatical. And the University of Illinois, another peer, said its last president who returned to the faculty received only a semesterlong sabbatical at faculty pay.

UMass spokesman Robert Connolly said the university’s president and board will probably determine how much chancellors will be paid on sabbaticals as they step down.

Two of the current chancellors - Jean MacCormack of UMass Dartmouth and Robert Holub of UMass Amherst - are due to leave their positions at the end of the school year. MacCormack is retiring and will not take a sabbatical. Holub has not made a decision about his plans.

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Mary Carmichael can be reached at mary.carmichael@globe.com.

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