A few top UConn officials get pay increases despite tough times

UConn's main campus at Storrs

The CT Mirror

UConn’s main campus at Storrs

In a fiscally challenging year in which few non-union managers received pay increases – at UConn or elsewhere in state government – President Susan Herbst is sticking by promises she made in 2013 and 2014 to give multiyear increases to four senior staff.

In December 2014 – one month after the governor cut state funding for UConn by $3.7 million and warned more cuts would come before the fiscal year ended – Herbst gave three of her most senior staff members hefty pay increases over two or three fiscal years.

Those increases went to the university’s general counsel, chief architect and Herbst’s deputy chief of staff. In 2013 she awarded her chief of staff increases and bonuses over the next three fiscal years.

Letters signed by Herbst, which the university said it considers contractual commitments, lay out the rationale for the increases for some of her key staff.

Recognizing his performance in organizing UConn’s general counsel office, Herbst wrote Richard Orr that his salary would increase from $220,000 to $275,000 over the next 13 months. He also was made eligible for and received an annual $25,000 bonus.

“These changes will bring your pay to a level that is more in line and competitive with those individuals serving in your role at similar institutions across the nation,” Herbst wrote.

“Your current salary of $225,000 is below the median salary for your colleagues who serve in similar roles at comparable institutions,” Herbst wrote Laura Cruickshank, the university’s chief architect. By “Jan. 1, 2017, your annual salary will be $283,000 per year, which is the figure in the 75th percentile of pay for your position nationally last year.”

Since those letters went out, the state’s finances have deteriorated further.

In light of the “new economic reality” often referred to by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, merit-based increases for non-union managers at UConn, state agencies, the Judicial Branch and Connecticut State Colleges & Universities, the state’s separate and largest public college system, were canceled for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

UConn, however, let the previously promised increases for top staff continue to take effect, treating the letters granting the increases as employment agreements.

The university says it has awarded few other pay increases to non-union staff in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, but it says some increases are necessary to retain or promote key staff or rectify fairness issues.

Most of the 224 non-unionized managers at UConn did not receive increases in the 2015-16 fiscal year, but 18 received increases of between 5 and 22 percent for various reasons.

Most were given increases when they were promoted to positions such as assistant dean, added teaching duties, took on additional responsibilities, or had their positions reclassified when it was determined they deserved to be paid more for the work they were doing.

For example, Budget Director Katrina Spencer received a $32,000, 22 percent pay increase when she became an associate vice president and was given added responsibilities overseeing capital spending.

UConn spokesman Tom Breen defended all the increases, saying they either helped retain valuable staff, recognized increased responsibilities or high performance, came with a new position or promotion, or made a person’s wages competitive with those in similar positions at peer universities.

“The university’s aim is always to hire and retain highly effective, experienced people and pay them fairly based on their professional value and the value of their job, both at UConn and nationally,” said Breen. “These are the senior leaders who are responsible for running a large and complex $2.3 billion enterprise with 30,000 students, 9,000 employees, seven campuses, and an academic medical center.”

“Salaries are determined based on the employee’s responsibilities, their skills and experience, how well they perform their job duties, and the CUPA-HR/Sibson national benchmarking data that show a range of what similar universities pay individuals in similar positions in a highly competitive market.”

Separately, Herbst and athletic department staff also received large increases dictated by their multiple-year contracts. (Herbst received a $29,500 pay raise in January, a $230,000 bonus in May for her retention and deferred compensation, supplemental retirement and car allowance, and will receive another $40,000 bonus this summer.) The Mirror requested a list of any increases for top officials at UConn Health on June 6 but had not received it as of June 20.

In February, in the wake of the rescission of increases throughout state government – and as state legislators prepared to reject a 3- to 4.5-percent pay raise for some unionized UConn professional staff for next fiscal year – the Mirror asked if any non-union staff at UConn had received increases for the current fiscal year.

A spokesperson replied that, “The only UConn non-union staff who received pay increases during this fiscal year were 16 employees whose salaries are less than $60,000. Employees in their job category are often administrative assistants.”

Only after paycheck information sought from the state comptroller showed the other increases did the university disclose them. The increases total $435,763 annually, excluding bonuses.

Typically the university says, there are two ways non-union employees can receive pay increases. The first comes from a pool of funds set aside for discretionary, merit-based increases. The second is based on individual circumstances and can include performance, retention, equity or a change in job responsibilities.

The university said this year’s increases are examples of the latter.

“The competitive market for senior positions in higher education nationally is absolutely a critical factor when determining non-union pay here and at all similar institutions nationally,” said Breen. “The market drives pay.”

“Each was tied to a specific reason; none were across-the-board,” said Breen.

Here’s the circumstances UConn gave for the 18 increases for non-union managers that were in excess of 5 percent and $5,000:

  • Four received increases because their position was reclassified, meaning they were promoted or given additional duties and responsibilities.
  • Five moved into a new position.
  • Four were given temporary increases because they were appointed to fill a vacant position on an interim basis and their pay reverts to their original salary when they return to their permanent positions.
  • One received an increase because an analysis showed she was being underpaid compared to peers.
  • Four who received the letters from Herbst received increases because of what the university called an existing employment agreement dating to 2013 or 2014.

Pay for non-unionized staff is set by the president, provost or vice presidents. Stephanie Reitz, another spokesman for UConn, stressed that an analysis completed by a private contractor last winter found that pay for the most senior administrators at UConn falls between the 25th and 75th percentile when compared to peer institutions.

“And it is typically close to the median,” said Reitz.

A handful of non-union staff also received bonuses this fiscal year. Rachel Rubin, the president’s chief of staff, received a $25,000 retention bonus not to retire. Orr receive a $25,000 performance bonus.

State auditors in their most recent review of the university’s finances took issue with performance bonuses that were awarded to six non-union staff.

“The lack of a structured plan with pre-established criteria gives the impression that the payments were determined in an arbitrary and subjective manner,” the auditors wrote in their audit released last July for fiscal 2012 and 2013.

With the state facing a deficit of $1.3 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 2017, UConn is not planning any further increases, said Reitz.

“The university and the board have indicated they intend to freeze non-union pay in 2017. Increases for those promoted into a new job, are named to an interim position, are reclassified, etc. would be determined on a case-by-case basis. If an employee has an existing contract, that would be followed,” she said.

Here’s a list of the increases for this fiscal year.

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