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Hartford - At three of the four Connecticut State University campuses, the president receives an extra $25,000 each year to spend without having to provide any documentation, according to university documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The fourth president receives $35,000 a year for her housing costs in lieu of the "unvouchered accommodation accounts," according to human resources policies that spell out all the compensation and benefits for the four presidents.
The policies, obtained by the AP through public records requests, provide a host of other benefits to the presidents, including state-owned cars, paid sabbatical leaves, special payments based on years of service and bonuses linked to job evaluations. Those perks are in addition to their $290,000-plus salaries, paid vacation and sick days and other benefits.
The $25,000 payments are given to Central Connecticut State University President John Miller, Eastern Connecticut State University President Elsa Nunez and Western Connecticut State University President James Schmotter. Southern Connecticut State University President Mary Papazian gets a $35,000 housing allowance instead, according to university system records.
University presidents across the country receive similar compensation benefits, but some state lawmakers are questioning whether taxpayer money should be used for such perks with the state facing a $365 million deficit this fiscal year and projected $1 billion deficits in each of the next four years.
"We're in a tough place, because if you look at the bottom line we can't afford it," said Canton state Rep. Timothy LeGeyt, the ranking Republican on the legislature's higher education committee. "I think that their compensation packages are very full. On the flip side, we want to be competitive. These people come here and say they want to be compensated fairly."
The four presidents receive the extra cash in installments in every one of their paychecks through the year, a university system spokeswoman said.
LeGeyt said he wasn't aware the presidents received the money until being told by the AP.
LeGeyt and West Hartford Democratic state Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the higher education committee, were among several lawmakers last month who criticized a $25,000 unvouchered account given annually to Robert Kennedy, the former president of the state Board of Regents for Higher Education, which oversees the state university system. Kennedy resigned Oct. 12 after acknowledging he gave $250,000 in unauthorized pay raises to staff members, and he later returned the $25,000 unvouchered account cash. Lawmakers said the payment was excessive and lacked accountability.
Kennedy's contract allowed for the unvouchered account to be used at his "sole discretion" for activities related to the Board of Regents, including fundraising and community outreach, The Hartford Courant reported last month.
The policies on the state university presidents' unvouchered account money don't include any restrictions. The policies only say the money is to be used at the sole discretion of the presidents. A president who takes a housing allowance instead isn't eligible for the unvouchered account.
Spokesmen at all four campuses referred questions about the money to the Board of Regents.
A Board of Regents spokeswoman issued a statement saying a new administration committee formed during the Kennedy pay-raise controversy already was reviewing the compensation of the presidents and other board employees.
"Reviewing presidential compensation packages as a whole, including accommodation accounts, is a critical undertaking, understanding that we must be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, while at the same time, attract top-notch presidents to lead our institutions and further the success of our students," the statement said.
Such perks have become common among university presidents across the country, said James Finkelstein, a public policy professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., who has been studying the contracts of 100 university presidents nationwide.
"What has happened in the last 10 to 20 years is that presidential contracts have become more complicated," Finkelstein said. "And they're more and more resembling the kinds of employment agreements that you'd expect to see in the private sector."
University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst's compensation package includes a $500,000 salary, a state-owned car, a driver, an on-campus house, staff and expenses for the house, a $125,000 bonus for completing five years of service and $50,000 a year in deferred compensation. UConn is not part of the state university system and is governed by its own board of trustees.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's chief of staff, Mark Ojakian, said the governor has no authority over state university compensation decisions. He said state universities and colleges are forced to compete with others across the country that offer perks such as homes, cars, expense accounts, club dues, retention bonuses and retirement contributions.