Suffolk University President David Sargent, whose high compensation and sudden contract extension sparked a campus outcry last year, will retire immediately, university officials said tonight after a special board meeting.
Sargent's contributions as a “leader and an architect for growth will serve as a model for future presidents of universities who attempt to achieve a similar level of excellence,” Meyer said in a written statement.
The move, which some trustees had been pushing for over the past year, signals a new era for Suffolk, heavily criticized by some faculty, alumni, and even board members for its leadership and direction. The transition, some hope, will allow the university to recover from the damage done last year to its image and ability to raise money and draw top students.
Sargent’s $1.5 million compensation package made headlines last fall because it was the second-largest among the country’s private college leaders in 2007-08 and more than four times the national average. Sargent had topped the list in 2006-07 with a $2.8 million compensation, more than half a million of which was reported again the following year even though he had only received it once, university officials had said.
Within days, the university generated more controversy by extending Sargent's contract, originally set to expire in July 2011, for two more years. That was the final straw for many faculty, who erupted in anger and accused Sargent of running the university with input from just a small circle of powerful friends. Sargent, now 79 years old and one of the nation’s longest serving college presidents, would have been 82 upon retirement if he had completed his contract.
The backlash prompted the resignation of Nicholas Macaronis, board chairman for nearly a decade and one of Sargent’s closest friends and supporters. Sargent deserved his high compensation because of his longevity and accomplishments at the school, where he has spent more than half a century, Macaronis said last year. Some trustees had said that Macaronis was responsible for pushing through the contract extension on short notice.
Sargent, a 1954 Suffolk Law graduate, began teaching at the university in 1956. He served as law school dean for 17 years before becoming president in 1989. During his tenure, he transformed a little-known commuter school housed in a few brownstones behind the State House to a university occupying a cresent-shaped swath of downtown Boston.
He expanded the university's academic programs, including introducing its first doctoral degrees. Enrollment has doubled to 9,600 over the past two decades. And the campus has outposts in Spain and Senegal.
“I feel privileged to have been at this university for such a long period of time,” Sargent said in a written statement. “Its students, faculty and staff have become my extended family. Suffolk today is a vibrant and thriving institution dedicated to academic excellence and social responsibility.”
Sargent is the latest in a string of college presidents to leave their posts. Brandeis and Emerson recently announced new presidents. Tufts and the University of Massachusetts are both in the midst of searching for new leaders
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