On eve of hearing, CSU defends Norton leave

An arrangement that keeps Southern Connecticut State University’s president on the payroll even after she has been dismissed from her job is standard procedure, university officials have told state legislators.

Departing President Cheryl Norton is entitled to an additional year’s pay and a sabbatical leave under existing university policies, Connecticut State University System officials said in a memo to lawmakers.

The memo, signed by  CSU System Board of Trustees Chairman Karl J. Krapek and Vice Chairman Richard J. Balducci, sought to clarify what it called “considerable misleading information . . . in the media and the legislature” surrounding Norton’s dismissal.

The memo was circulated in advance of a hearing at 1 p.m. today in Hartford, where members of the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee will question various officials about Norton’s dismissal.

Norton’s departure was announced in February as a retirement, but documents obtained by The Mirror indicated that Norton, 61, had been forced out and had negotiated a settlement with the CSU system.

Some legislators have criticized an arrangement that keeps Norton on the CSU payroll at her full $285,200 salary for a year after she relinquishes her duties while also paying her interim replacement a salary of $280,200. Norton’s year includes a six-month sabbatical.

In their memo, Krapek and Balducci say that under longstanding university policies Norton is eligible for the sabbatical and a year’s pay. The memo compares the arrangement to a case at the University of Connecticut in 2007, when departing President Philip Austin took a year-long sabbatical at full pay of $445,000 while his successor, Michael Hogan, received a salary of $550,000.

However, Austin later returned to the university–a standard requirement for a sabbatical–as a tenured professor at a salary of $370,000, which included deferred compensation. Norton’s separation agreement waived the requirement that she return.

CSU’s nine-point memo addresses several questions about Norton’s dismissal but does not answer a key question as to why she was dismissed.

The settlement between Norton and CSU officials reveals little about the dismissal except to say “it is not related in any way to her work performance or for disciplinary reasons.” The settlement prohibits Norton and CSU from commenting on the matter.

According to the trustees’ memo, Chancellor David G.Carter’s recommendation to remove Norton had the approval of Krapek and the Board of Trustees Executive Committee. The recommendation “was made after substantial deliberation and was not arbitrary,” the memo said.

Carter later named Stanley Battle, former president of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, as an interim replacement. Battle and Carter were colleagues at Eastern Connecticut State University when Carter was Eastern’s president in the 1990s. Battle takes over for Norton on June 1.

As chancellor, Carter oversees four CSU campuses, including the Southern campus in New Haven.

Carter notified Norton of her dismissal only weeks after the Board of Trustees adopted a policy granting him authority to dismiss presidents “without cause or explanation” and without a vote of the full board.

That type of authority is uncommon in most other states, according to a report issued last week by the state Office of Legislative Research. Most states require board approval to dismiss a president, and only four of 35 university systems reviewed had similar policies, the report said.

The new policy requires only that the chancellor get the consent of the board chairman.

In their memo, the trustees defended the policy, saying that the chancellor and presidents “serve at the pleasure of the board” and can be dismissed without cause. Because the chancellor is responsible for supervising and evaluating university presidents, it is “wholly appropriate for [the chancellor] . . . to initiate a process” of dismissal, the memo said.

The change in policy had nothing to do with the decision to place Norton on paid leave, the memo said. Even if the dismissal had occurred before the policy change, “the fiscal liability would have been identical,” according to the trustees.

Earlier this week, the Faculty Senate at Southern issued a vote of “no confidence” in both Carter and Krapek, accusing them of reckless financial behavior and poor judgment.

The memo from Krapek and Balducci, however, defended Carter’s financial record, saying he has reduced the size of CSU’s central office staff by nearly one-third since being named chancellor in 2006. The memo said the university has responded to a statewide fiscal crisis with cost-cutting measures such as hiring and wage freezes and a system-wide staff reduction of 10 percent.