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Chancellors pan idea of limiting administrators' payouts

Posted August 13, 2009

— Chancellors at University of North Carolina campuses said Thursday that limiting payouts to former administrators who retire or move to faculty positions could hurt the schools.

UNC President Erskine Bowles wants more controls placed on so-called "retreat rights," saying they are too generous and need more accountability and definition.

UNC President Erskine Bowles Bowles wants to pull back on 'retreat rights'

"Retreat rights are standard in the industry. I, however, believe the package we offer today is slightly more generous than it needs to be," Bowles told the UNC Board of Governors.

The issue gained statewide attention recently because of a pay deal promised to former North Carolina State University Provost Larry Nielsen, who resigned in May amid questions about his role in the hiring and promotion of Mary Easley, the wife of former Gov. Mike Easley.

Mary Easley's hiring by the university is part of a federal grand jury investigation into the dealings the former governor had with friends and contributors while in office.

Nielsen plans to take a faculty position at N.C. State, and former Chancellor James Oblinger, who also resigned over the Mary Easley controversy, approved a pay package for Nielsen that would have allowed him to continue collecting his full provost's salary for six months. The pay package also would have reduced Nielsen's salary to that of a professor over a three-year period, which would violate a university policy limiting payouts to one year.

The N.C. State Board of Trustees voided the payout in June, saying it never approved the deal.

Bowles recommended limiting paid leaves before administrators return to teaching to six months instead of the year now allowed. He also said all payout packages should be approved by a campus Board of Trustees and possibly by the Board of Governors as well.

Chancellors bristled a bit at the proposal, saying retreat rights are an important part of the compensation package they can offer to attract top talent to administrative positions.

"You can't denude incentives and hope to remain competitive and great," University of North Carolina-Wilmington Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo said.

DePaolo said people need the full year before going back into the classroom to get up to speed on current technology and teaching in their fields.

"It would be unthinkable to return to the classroom without significant time to retool," she said. "Unless I have significant time to re-educate myself, I will be an embarrassment and probably a danger in the classroom."

Current chancellors and senior administrators would be grandfathered in under any policy change. Still, North Carolina Central University Chancellor Charlie Nelms said he might not have accepted the job overseeing the Durham campus if the UNC system had limited retreat rights.

DePaolo also compared the issue to the lucrative deals campuses offer athletic coaches, including bonuses and buyout clauses.

"It says a lot about the values of our country that there's not similar outrage over that," she said.

Bowles agreed that "attracting and keeping great leaders is our No. 1 job," but he and Hannah Gage, the chairwoman of the Board of Governors, said officials also need to consider how best to maintain the image of the UNC system.

"We're a public system, and we've begun to lose some of the public's confidence in how we operate," Gage said.

The Board of Governors isn't expected to vote on a policy change for several months.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Objective Scientist Aug 14, 2009

    What would anyone expect the Chancellors' to say about this issue? It is like asking the fox what he/she thinks about who should guard the hen house. As one other poster stated, we always hear the "it is required to attract" the best people justification. That is well and good for the Chancellors, and other high level administrators. It would not be "required" if all Universities would stop doing it. Is that likely to happen... NO! Consider that Chancellors and Presidents of Universities are the CEOs of their institutions, yet they "allow", even condone, paying FB and BB coaches millions to coach a sports team... and they take the position that they are "powerless" to prevent it. The "average" working American, including most college/university professors, is often paid, at best, a "fair and reasonable" wage. Upper level administrators" and FB/BB coaches receive salaries many times those of the "average" working professor and incredible "perks", bonuses, etc. on top of their salary.

  • seankelly15 Aug 14, 2009

    TarheelsDontLikeEdwards - "No other industry does this when people step down from a position." Your comment must have been a 'tongue in cheek' comment - right? Thanks for a good laugh!

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Aug 14, 2009

    The Chancellors are protecting themselves and their cronies.

    No other industry does this when people step down from a position.

    Could it be that the educators are so incapable that they have to retrain for any job change.

    As they say, those who can, do. Those who cant', teach.

  • imtiredofit Aug 14, 2009

    "Retreat rights are standard in the industry. I, however, believe the package we offer today is SLIGHTLY more generous than it needs to be," Bowles told the UNC Board of Governors.
    WOW, what harsh words from Bowles, soon he will be lacing his speech with "pretty please and may I". As for these clowns that said they would have gone somewhere else if they didn't have these outrageous perks- I say let them go, the faster they are gone the better off the taxpayers will be.

  • me2you Aug 14, 2009

    I wrote the Board of Governers and expressed my concern and outrage that this even occurs. One of them wrote me back rquesting my phone number to explain it to me. Hmmm!

  • no contest Aug 14, 2009

    If these retreat rights and golden parachutes are the so called standard in the industry, NC should be a real trend setter and change the trend.

  • xxxxxxxxxxxxx Aug 14, 2009

    I am a state employee and I have "retreat rights" too. If I mess up I will get fired and I am free to retreat to my home and starve.

  • dohicky Aug 14, 2009

    I am sure in these economic times you can find a lot of good people who would take these jobs for a lot less. Most people in NC that pay these salaries with their tax money do not get such benefits. It is time to stop this madness.

  • thefensk Aug 14, 2009

    Well, they may be "standard" in the industry but when such standards impact the general monies available to the operating budgets at universities I would say it is time to reset the standards. Obviously these highly eductated people are missing the obvious point: such "standards" are a symptom of their budgetary ills. We hear this "required to attract" argument all the time. Hey, in a flat economy it is a buyers market. If the UNC system is outbid for one of these prime candidates, well, I think the new employer will soon be facing the same budgetary crisis and the candidate will face the old "last in-first out" industry standard.

  • Objective Scientist Aug 13, 2009

    Current Chancellors do not like Bowles' move to reduce "retreat rights", "golden parachute" type contracts for their positions, even though they will be exempt from changes. These are people who are being paid extremely high salaries (although not as much as their FB & BB coaches), who live in "mansions" provided free of rent or mortage, who receive incredible additional "perks" and benefits. The Chancellors' say such "retreat rights" are "standard in the industry". Perhaps so, but would they really refuse the job if this "benefit" were not in the contract... and no University in the USA were to offer such benefits? I think not. Same for coaches, would they refuse to coach for a mere $300 to $400 thousand a year if no other school would offer them more? I think not. Compensation, including bonuses, of CEOs, athletic coaches, pro athletes, entertainers, etc. have been beyond anything reasonable for decades. "Retreat rights" of higher education administrators are clearly unreasonable!