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Ex-UMass chief given deal totaling $568,429

May fuel debate on college pay

By Todd Wallack and Mary Carmichael
Globe Staff / December 13, 2011
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When Jack Wilson stepped down from the University of Massachusetts presidency in June, he kept one important perk: his presidential salary.

This academic year, Wilson is receiving his old base salary of $425,000 - the same as new president Bob Caret and more than most university presidents - while on a one-year sabbatical.

Wilson also cashed in $150,000 in deferred compensation owed to him from the last four years. With that, he has received a total of $568,429 from UMass so far this calendar year, making him the fourth highest-paid public employee in the state.

Next year, when he begins teaching higher education, emerging technologies, and innovation at UMass Lowell, he may earn a salary of up to $316,784, close to triple what the average full professor makes either at that campus or the university’s flagship campus in Amherst. The final amount will be determined under an agreement that was not publicly discussed nor ratified by the full UMass board of trustees.

The three highest earners also work in the UMass system: Michael F. Collins, chancellor of the medical school; Terence R. Flotte, provost of the medical school; and Derek R. Lovley, an associate dean at UMass Amherst, payroll records show.

Even Wilson said he was surprised to learn how much he could earn as a professor.

His compensation could add UMass to the list of universities nationwide embroiled in controversy over sabbaticals and other perks provided to departing presidents despite tight budgets.

“Many presidents have in their contracts provisions for golden parachutes, as though they’re corporate executives,’’ said Benjamin Ginsberg, author of “The Fall of the Faculty,’’ a recent critique of university administrations. “On campus, we don’t like it because it seems like a waste of money. But it is becoming the norm.’’

Wilson said his pay on sabbatical excludes many of his old presidential benefits, such as housing and car allowances. And rather than relax, he is advising Caret, developing new courses, and representing the university system on civic boards. He spends about half his time running the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate for free. Instead of paying Wilson directly, the institute is temporarily reimbursing the school 41 percent of his sabbatical salary through this month, because he is technically on loan to the organization.

“It’s quite a lot of work and I get no compensation for that, but the university does,’’ Wilson said. “I thought I was doing a double good thing: helping the university and helping the institute. Quite honestly, I think if you compare the way I’ve used my sabbatical versus other presidents who have left recently, you’ll discover I’m focused a lot more on helping the university.’’

Still, news of his continuing high pay angered some students. “It points to a gross misuse of taxpayer funds,’’ said Benjamin Bull, a first-year graduate student who received his bachelor’s degree from UMass Amherst. “There are increases in tuition and cuts to student jobs, and at the same time administrators have these huge salaries and sabbaticals? That seems pretty unfair to me.’’

UMass has steadily revised its employment agreements with Wilson over the years in ways that could increase his post-presidential salary.

His original contract, signed in 2004, the year he was named president, entitles him to a yearlong sabbatical but does not specify the pay or timing for that period. An amended 2007 contract says his sabbatical pay should equal his presidential salary and clarifies that he will take the sabbatical after leaving his job. Per usual practice, neither contract was voted on by the entire board of trustees. The trustees instead let their chairman and the compensation committee negotiate the terms, said Robert Connolly, a UMass spokesman.

Wilson’s $425,000 compensation while on sabbatical exceeds that of many active presidents of private colleges and universities. According to a new survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education, private college presidents had a median base salary of $294,489 in 2009, the most recent year for which data were available.

In January, UMass told the Globe in an e-mail that Wilson’s pay would be “reduced to that of a senior member of the faculty’’ when he assumed an academic position. At the time, the university also said there was “no written agreement’’ defining his post-presidential compensation.

But last week, the university provided the Globe with at least three written agreements concerning Wilson’s transition.

Wilson’s 2004 contract says he may “return to campus as a professor at a salary that will be adjusted to be commensurate with the salaries of senior chaired professors’’ at UMass Amherst. But as part of the 2007 version, the university agreed to give him a professorial salary “equal to the highest-paid tenured professor of the university, excluding the medical school.’’

Both contracts are worded so ambiguously that they could describe an amount anywhere from the low $200,000s to over a million dollars, Wilson said.

In July 2010, Wilson and former board chairman Robert Manning signed a final document laying out the terms of his transition. Like the other contracts, the 2010 agreement was never publicly discussed or ratified by the full UMass board.It says it is not intended to modify any provision in Wilson’s previous employment contract.

But unlike the 2007 agreement, it did not exclude the medical school in its salary calculations. It called for Wilson to receive “no more than the average value of the salary of the five campus provosts’’ and thus sets a higher limit for his pay.

The average of the five campus provosts’ salaries is $316,784. The inclusion of the medical school skews it upwards. The provost there makes $537,500 a year. Without him, the average is much lower, at $261,605. By contrast, the average salary for a full professor at most UMass campuses is less than $120,000.

Wilson said he was not involved in the details of the document. He added that he had expected a number in the mid-$200,000s and was surprised to see the medical school included.

“You know I’m not going to hold them to that,’’ he said. “I would be happy to tell them and tell them to leave the medical school out of the calculations. It’ll be a reasonable number when it comes out.’’

Post-presidential perks - including sabbaticals, tenure, and half-time workloads - are on the rise elsewhere, Ginsberg said.

Presidents at the University of Vermont, Rutgers University, Missouri State University, and North Carolina State University have come in for criticism over such packages in recent years, according to Inside Higher Ed, an online news source. In 2007, the president of the embattled University of California system was pushed out after a controversy involving high pay for managers. He departed with a paid year off and seven-figure pension.

Typically, Ginsberg said, colleges justify full-pay sabbaticals for outgoing presidents by noting “that because of all the pressure they were under, they need a year to recover.’’ Some schools also say corporate-style perks are necessary to attract the best candidates.

That is the case at both private universities and state institutions, he added. “Very often it’s at the public schools,’’ he said. “It’s outrageous.’’

Mary Carmichael can be reached at mary.carmichael@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @mary_carmichael.

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