The Board of Regents for Higher Education has reinstated the $48,000 pay increases for two college presidents who first got them months ago when they agreed to take on additional responsibilities.

The board’s Special Committee on Administration recommended the move, arguing that these increases — unlike 19 others also suspended last month — actually were stipends properly authorized by the full board to reflect significantly increased responsibilities mandated by law.

Naomi Cohen, the chair of the special committtee, said that the increases for Elsa Nunez, president of Eastern Connecticut State University, and David Levinson, president of Norwalk Community College, were discussed during a closed executive session last year but not voted on in public. 

The presidents also signed letters of agreement with the system approving the increase at that time, she said.

The pay increases were suspended recently after the Mirror first disclosed that President Robert M. Kennedy, who has since resigned, unilaterally awarded 21 employees in his central office staff raises totaling nearly $300,000. State law and the appointed board’s bylaws state that compensation is the appointed board’s responsibility.

“Reinstating these individuals in these roles makes sense,” said Yvette Melendez, vice chair of the full board and member of the special committee.

In exchange for added responsibilities the presidents assumed at the central office, Nunez’s pay jumps by 16 percent, from $299,460 to $347,460. Levinson will earn $252,188– a 24 percent increase.

Cohen said the presidents were given these additional roles because they can “hit the ground running.”

Elsa Nunez

Elsa Nunez, president of Eastern Connecticut State University

Levinson 2

David Levinson, president of Norwalk Community College

In explaining Levinson’s and Nunez’s raises earlier this year, the system’s spokeswoman pointed out that a new state law merging 17 of the state’s higher education institutions required the central office to hire two vice presidents — one for the community colleges and another for the state colleges.

“Had David and Elsa not accepted double-breasted roles at $48,000 each, two [vice presidents] would have cost roughly $200,000 each,” said Colleen Flanagan Johnson, spokeswoman for the system.

Nunez wrote her faculty and staff last week to explain the justification for the raise she has been receiving since April.

“Part of the rationale for selecting two sitting presidents to also serve as vice presidents was the realization of significant cost savings,” she wrote, noting her increase in compensation should not be called a raise, but a “stipend/salary adjustment.”

Cohen confirmed that assessment Thursday.

The 21 raises Kennedy awarded were suspended two weeks ago, pending the appointed board’s review.

Reducing admnistrative costs was one of the main reasons for a massive higher education reorganization spurred by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy during his second month on the job. The previous board governing the Connecticut State Universities awarded its central office staff double-digit raises in 2010. At that time, the college president salaries were significantly higher than those of their peers.

Follow Jacqueline Rabe Thomas on Twitter and Facebook.

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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