Golden parachutes for University executives

Scott Marshall — University employee

According to Sunday’s Star Tribune, when asked why he signed off on an additional one-time $75,000 deposit to departing provost Tom Sullivan’s retirement account — an amount “about double” what was specified in the provost’s contract — former University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks said, “I rounded up.”

I rounded up. Flippant. And disturbing.

When the chancellor of the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus, Kathryn Martin, retired, President Bruininks applauded her work and called out her willingness to endure multiple pay freezes and a smaller salary than colleagues managing smaller campuses. Chancellor Martin left UMD with an extra $535,000.

Multiple pay freezes. Paid less than comparable positions on other campuses. Sound familiar to anyone?

What is going on around here? On what values are these decisions based?

According to Sunday’s Star Tribune, these payments are commonplace and even necessary in academia to attract the best and the brightest. So this reflexive largesse is in the name of a top-notch enterprise.

The success of the University demands a more progressive set of values.

Let’s start by helping the University’s next set of leaders: its students who are struggling to pay for college and get financial aid.

Let’s start with my staff colleagues whose earnings are low and have remained low for several years under the same pay freezes that the chancellor endured.

Let’s put administrators, who make enough money to be more comfortable than many of us will ever experience, at the bottom of our priority list.

Outrageous and audacious irresponsibility, and it does not reflect values that this land-grant institution should hold high.

I wonder a few things about this nice little caste system they’ve got going. To what extent does this regime get in the way of good-faith negotiations with the University’s unions? What does the Legislature have to say about these types of giveaways? Is any talent worth such a concentration of resources? What else is the University willing to sacrifice at the expense of us, the 99 percent?

Some suggestions: Suppose Goldy let the UMD chancellor or the human resources executive go — free and clear, no golden parachute. Then suppose Goldy invested — I mean invested in their development and their talents — in some bright new up-and-comers to lead those functions, people who would challenge the status quo, who would work on the edges of growth. No contractual parachutes. (Hint: We are your alumni and staff, and we’re right under your noses.)

And suppose the University invested a little more in scholarships for students who need it most. And invested a little more in staff salaries for my colleagues who are struggling more than others. That kind of progressivity is a value I could stand behind.

Short of stopping the practice of paying administrators anything at all when their job responsibilities are done, how about this: When a University administrator leaves her position, the University pays that person the wage of the lowest paid union worker on campus. That would give the person a year to “retool” (or leave) at a wage that University administrators seem to think is acceptable for 2,080 hours of work. If it’s enough for an employee with real responsibilities to Goldy, then surely it’s enough for someone without formal responsibility who is spending their time retooling for whatever is next.

Occupy Morrill Hall anyone?