A closer look at Connecticut’s higher education salaries

The Malloy administration insists that the $410,000 compensation package it awarded in 2011 to the former president of the state’s college system was competitive.

“This was very moderate in comparison” to other public college systems, Mark Ojakian, the governor’s chief of staff, said recently. Robert A. Kennedy resigned as president in October after a series of controversies; the amount of his compensation was one thing that lawmakers and others had criticized.

But the median pay for presidents of institutions that grant master’s degrees is $272,500 — two-thirds the salary Kennedy received, according to a national association that monitors higher education workplace issues, including salaries.

The Board of Regents has named a committee to search for the next president of the higher education system and to determine the size and contents of his or her compensation package. The Malloy administration says it plans to stay out of these salary negotiations.

Kennedy earned more in 2011 than the leaders of college systems in Nebraska, Wisconsin, Colorado, Tennessee and Missouri. Not only do those systems serve either the equivalent number or many more students than Connecticut, they also include their state’s flagship university. Connecticut’s flagship, the University of Connecticut, is separate from the regents system.

Kennedy’s compensation included a $340,000 base salary, $20,000 in annual deferred compensation, a $25,000 annual performance bonus and $25,000 a year from an unvouchered “accommodation account.” Kennedy was also given the use of a $36,863 car, and he received $19,274 for one-time moving expenses and six paid weeks off for professional development seperate from his vacation time. Kennedy said that he used the six weeks to work remotely over the summer from a second home in Minnesota.

Requests for a copy of Kennedy’s performance review that led to his performance bonus were denied; a spokeswoman said it was a personnel file and thus not required to be released.

The outcry over his compensation has led the 15-member Board of Regents to reconsider the level appropriate for that position and for other top spots in the state system. The committee plans to commission a review of how much college officials across the country are paid.

“I want to see how we stack up with other states,” Michael E. Pollard, one of three members on the Special Committee on Administration, said at the panel’s last meeting.

“We need to look where we as a system fit,” said Yvette Melendez, vice chairwoman of the board and also a committee member.

Finding savings in central office

Part of Malloy‘s sales pitch when he proposed merging the administrative functions of the state community and four-year colleges was that the savings would lead to more money for the classroom.

“We need to get a lot of the bureaucracy out of the way and to flatten the management of these systems. … I believe our inability to turn on a dime with respect to the management of these systems and to lower our administrative costs has hurt us,” he said in February 2011 when announcing the initiative.

At the time, Malloy pointed to Minnesota’s college system as the one he hoped to model.

Kennedy’s pay nearly mirrored that of the chancellor of Minnesota’s colleges, a system with twice the number of students.

The overhaul to Connecticut’s higher education system followed the controversy surrounding the 47 percent pay raise given to the then chancellor of the Connecticut State University System, David Carter. When he resigned, Carter’s annual pay was $412,000 a year.

The new Connecticut system has cut $5.5 million in central costs after shedding 24 central office positions.

Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Higher Education Committee, applauded the savings, but said that doesn’t justify hefty pay increases for other officials.

“State government doesn’t work on commission,” she said. “I was shocked by [Kennedy’s] compensation.”

Determining a competitive salary

When asked how it was determined what to offer Kennedy to lure him to Connecticut, the Malloy administration provided a report from National Public Radio’s show, “Marketplace.”

“I know that there was a very careful analysis done of compensation packages around the country relative to what was being considered for Dr. Kennedy. This was by no means out of whack,” Ojakian said during a recent interview, noting the package offered to Kennedy fell in the middle.

The “Marketplace” document shows that Kennedy’s compensation was the 5th highest of the 13 college system presidents circled. Georgia, New York and California — all systems with at least twice as many students as Connecticut’s — paid their top higher education officials more than Kennedy was earning. Massachusetts, with roughly the same number of students as in the regents system, paid its leader $116,000 more than Kennedy received.

Kennedy was the president of the University of Maine, the state’s flagship university, before he came to Connecticut. He received a $145,000 pay bump when he landed the job as the president of the state’s newly formed Board of Regents for Higher Education. The chancellor of Maine’s higher education system — which includes University of Maine and seven other colleges — makes $299,500 in pay and other benefits a year, according to a spokesman.

Lawmakers from both parties have said they think Malloy overstepped by finding a permanant president for the system and negotiating a long-term contract with Kennedy.

The governor’s office said it does not intend to be involved this time.

“I wouldn’t anticipate the governor’s office being involved in negotiating that contract,” Ojakian said.

When determining the compensation for the system’s interim president, Philip Austin, Board of Regents Chairman Lewis Robinson Jr. said the $340,000 determination was made after looking at the pay of those leaders in New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania, all systems that serve much larger student populations.

Robinson declined to be interviewed for this article.

Responding to reporters’ questions after a meeting last month about the compensation package given to Kennedy — a responsibiliy state law empowers the board, not the governor, to make — Robinson said, “I really don’t have knowledge of what process was followed… Hindsight is 20-20. If we had to do it again, there would probably be more discussion.”

In the past nine years, three independent reviews have looked at the pay of top officials in the Connecticut State University system.

The most recent, by the legislature’s nonpartisan Program Review and Investigations Committee in 2011, found that office salaries increased by 13 percent between 2005 and 2010, while pay for everyone else in the system was flat. Another report by the acting budget director under Gov. M. Jodi Rell, concluded that the salaries of top officials in the Connecticut State University system were significantly above their counterparts at other public universities.

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