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University of Conn. makes the same money mistake twice

If You Ask Me

In the words of the legendary phrasemaker Yogi Berra, the University of Connecticut has found itself in an embarrassing “déjà vu all over again” situation by making another sweetheart financial deal with an ex president.

Way back in 2019, Susan Herbst stepped down after eight years as head of the state’s higher education flagship and departed on a year-long sabbatical accompanied by the $712,000 salary she received as president.  

After that, she endured a significant salary cut, to a mere $319,000, when she joined the Stamford campus of the university as a tenured full professor of political science, teaching a reported one course.  

But there was still hope for advancement for the new professor because her contract couldn’t keep her down in the $300K range for long.  It promised to pay her a  salary equal to that of the highest paid professor the university might hire in the future.

If, for example, the university were able to acquire the services of a real academic star, say a Nobel Prize winner in physics, requiring the payment of as much as $500,000 per annum, Professor Herbst would enjoy the same salary.  She would, in fact, enjoy that happy reality forever, or at least until she stopped working.  She is now just 57 years old and has indicated no interest in retiring. Why would she?

Along about the time the public was becoming aware of this most extraordinary contractual agreement by a deficit laden institution, courtesy, as I recall, of The Courant’s Jon Lender, the same Board of Trustees was negotiating with Herbst’s replacement.

That would be Thomas (“Tommy, we hardly knew ye”) Katsouleas, who was hired as president in August of 2019 and announced his departure at the end of June 2021.  How time flies.

Like Herbst, Katsouleas is leaving the presidency, but not the family. But unlike Herbst, his only two years as president do not qualify him for a sabbatical year with his full president’s salary intact. You need five long years in office for that particular perk.  So, in order to keep working, this former president will have to immediately assume the duties of  professor. He will become a tenured professor in UConn’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, with what is called a courtesy appointment in the Physics Department.

His starting salary will be $339,000, the same two other professors, one being Yiming Qian of the Business Department, the university’s highest paid employee outside of those in UConn Health or coaching.  The other top salaried prof is, of course, the aforementioned Herbst.

This arrangement, allowing the retired presidents to continue getting the pay of the best paid member of the faculty, is, according to experts in this field contacted by The Courant, as unheard of as it is generous.

It seems colleges and universities are usually or unusually generous to former presidents who want to stay on, most often paying them 75% of their president’s salary or matching the university’s highest paid professor, whichever is more.

But the deal works only once and is not repeated every time a higher paid prof gets signed up ­— from here to eternity.

You may wonder why, after Herbst’s sweetheart deal was greeted with such public disdain, the trustees negotiated the same extraordinary agreement with the two-year man, Katsouleas.  I wonder with you. Maybe the trustees don’t care what the public thinks.

I wonder, too, how the trustees could let this happen — twice — with tuition at an all-time high, with beleaguered students burdened by college loans until well into middle age. This comes  after being frequently taught by poorly paid graduate assistants while their wealthy professors get away with teaching a couple of courses in order to pursue what looks like the “research university’s” primary goal.

But do not despair. Connecticut taxpayers/fans will soon welcome a new football season, in which the team is expected to do better than last season, when they didn’t play. The question is, will the fan revolt against  ticket costs continue and will the team improve upon its two most recent performances of 2 wins and 10 losses in 2019 and 1 win and 11 defeats in 2018? Or will everybody win if the university gets out of big-time football?

 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.

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