Top UConn staff to forgo part of their controversial pay increases

Bowing to pressure from legislative leaders, University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst late Friday announced three top staff members who have received hefty, multi-year pay raises or bonuses will forgo part of those increases.

“These employees are critical to the university and are being paid fairly, in keeping with national benchmarks, earning their pay,” Herbst wrote legislative leaders who took issue with the increases. “I understand the concerns you have voiced regarding the appearance of even a small number of pay increases in this fiscal environment.”

Saying she did not “wish to place unnecessary strain” on the relationship between the public university and legislators, she announced that three of the four top staff members that have received large increases would be forgoing part of them.

“I am concerned about the precedent this action may set, and that it will make hiring high-quality faculty and staff at UConn more difficult in the future. However, given the circumstances, we believe it is necessary in order to move forward,” she wrote Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Sen. Danté Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, who co-chairs the legislative committee that oversees UConn.

The Connecticut Mirror reported two weeks ago that Herbst was sticking to promises she made in 2013 and 2014 to award multiple-year pay increases to the university’s general counsel, chief architect and Herbst’s chief of staff and deputy chief of staff. Legislative leaders responded by calling Herbst “tone deaf” and urging her to rescind the increases.

Bartolomeo was pleased with the decision Friday.

UConn President Susan Herbst

CT Mirror file photo

UConn President Susan Herbst

“This is a reasonable resolution to what I have said from the beginning was a surprising and untenable position for the university to take, considering the fiscal austerity that we in the legislature have undertaken in the past year and the message – intended or not – that these huge bonuses send to a public who are enduring statewide program and service cuts,” said Bartolomeo. “UConn is and will still be a prominent institution of higher learning and a desirable place for students and staff to live and learn. But we must be able to balance affordability, sustainability and growth all at the same time. These one-time bonuses were contrary to that goal, and I am glad that the remaining compensation owed to some employees has been canceled.”

The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who had not been critical of the raises, also backed Herbst’s decision.

“This is the prudent and right decision, and we appreciate the university’s responsive and responsible action. UConn is one of our state’s primary economic drivers. For it to remain the world-class institution that it is and continue to grow, it must continue to attract and retain top talent. At the same time, it’s incumbent upon everyone in state government – including higher education – to prioritize resources and be cognizant of our state’s economic reality. This was the smart step forward, and we are pleased that this matter is settled and we can all move on together,” said Meg Green, a spokeswoman for the Democratic governor.

Here’s a rundown of the increases the staff received and what they will be forgoing;

  • Richard Orr, the school’s top lawyer, has received a $55,000 increase over the last two fiscal years, a 25 percent increase to bring his salary to $275,000. He also has received a $25,000 bonus in each of the last two years. A spokeswoman for UConn said Orr will forgo a $25,000 bonus and $15,000 of car allowance.
  • Rachel Rubin, the president’s chief of staff, has received a $52,000 increase over the last three fiscal years, a 26 percent increase, to bring her salary to $255,000. She also has received $25,000 and $30,000 bonuses during that time. A spokeswoman for UConn said Rubin will be forgoing a $30,000 performance bonus and $15,000 car allowance.
  • Laura Cruickshank, the university’s chief architect, has received a $45,000 increase over the last two fiscal years – a 20 percent increase to bring her salary to $270,000. A spokeswoman for UConn said Cruickshank will forgo a $13,000 increase that was scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1.

Not included among those giving back an increase or bonus is Michael Kirk, the president’s deputy chief of staff, who has received a $34,000 raise over the last two fiscal years – a 30 percent increase that brings his salary to $160,000.

Herbst also will not be forgoing the $40,000 annual performance award her contact allows the system’s governing board to provide on top of a $125,000 retention bonus that she received this year for staying at UConn for five years. Her contract states that Herbst is entitled to the performance award “unless the Board determines that Herbst, without good cause, has failed to meet the goals and objectives for the year.” Herbst is slated to receive the performance bonus this summer.

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