David Hodge won’t be president of Miami University after June next year, but he’ll continue to get paid like he’s still in charge of the college.
Hodge will take a yearlong sabbatical starting next July — he might teach a winter term course and he’ll help the next president transition into the job — and still be paid his $419,000 annual presidential salary for another year, per his written contract with Miami.
The clause isn’t an unusual one for presidents who sign employment contracts with Ohio’s public colleges. In fact, Hodge’s retirement terms are less lucrative compared to some area public colleges.
Payouts, costly sabbaticals and pricey tenure jobs are now guarantees for many college presidents once they retire, said Jim Finkelstein, a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, who has studied more than 100 presidential contracts.
“There was a time when you were a university president if you retired, you retired,” Finkelstein said. “It’s fine to pay them while they’re doing the job. But, when they’re done with the job, why are they being compensated?”
Cue Raymond Cotton.
He’s a Washington-based attorney who’s written up more than 300 presidential contracts for private and public universities across the nation, including some in Ohio.
Sabbaticals guarantee that former presidents will help the incoming chiefs network and transition into the role, which he argues, benefits everyone.
“Why lose the talent simply because he or she retired as president?” said Cotton, who’s represented both college trustees and presidents in contract negotiations before. “It’s part of the culture, it’s become customary. The salary following the president is often time based on how much the president got paid. The idea is to help maintain his or her standard of living.”
He wouldn’t say which Ohio clients he’s worked with but estimated he’s worked with roughly six public universities here. He believes he’s likely one of the first lawyers to demand a president be paid sabbatical once they retire in a contract.
Presidential contracts, which typically didn’t exist when Cotton first entered the field decades ago, have become increasingly competitive — and, as a result, costly — in recent years as colleges try to lure the best candidate into the position.
Cotton described college presidents as “victims” who have had to cope with loftier demands from students while balancing tighter budgets in recent years. He said presidents are at the whim of their university 24 hours a day, seven days a week so colleges are forced to pay up to attract capable candidates.
“Universities compete with each other,” Cotton said. “To make your campus attractive, the best and the brightest, it takes a big investment.”
Locally, college presidents at Miami, Wright State University, University of Dayton and University of Cincinnati are all guaranteed a year of presidential pay after they retire.
UD President Daniel Curran announced he will step down in June 2016 and will take a one-year sabbatical. His salary in 2012, the most recent year available through tax records, was $732,881.
Of five area colleges reviewed, Ohio State University president Michael Drake was the only who doesn’t have a paid sabbatical written in his contract.
Perks for retiring as president don’t end there for some local college presidents.
Retirement is even sweeter for UC president Santa Ono, who makes $525,000 annually in his role.
For every year he stays on as UC’s president, the university pays $100,000 to his retirement account. Once he retires, he’ll be paid at his presidential rate for a year while on administrative leave from the college. After that, he’ll automatically be appointed as a tenured, biology professor making $345,000 with the university.
UC trustees could not immediately be reached for comment on this story.
Wright State University president David Hopkins, who could retire in 2017 and makes $400,000 annually, will get an extra $75,000 if he finishes out the remaining two years of his contract. Once he retires, he’ll also work a year at his current pay, as an adviser to the incoming president. The job, for him, will come with an office, staff, and a car stipend.
After that, Hopkins will also be entitled to a tenure professor position in the college’s education department, earning salary and benefits “no less than the highest compensated professor” teaching in the program.
Neither Hopkins nor the college’s trustee chairman would comment for this story.
Inter-University Council of Ohio President Bruce Johnson said turnover among college presidents is proof that they have a stressful job that requires high pay. The Inter-University Council of Ohio represents the state’s public colleges. He said most presidents only last a few years in their role.
“There’s an awful lot of turnover in university presidents,” Johnson said. “I think it’s exhausting. The challenges are enormous.”
But Finkelstein argues the presidents’ compensation packages are unlike what any other public servant earns. He said people often liken college presidents to chief executives of private corporations to justify their pay. The governor of Ohio, for example, is only paid $148,000 annually by comparison.
And, he points out, many corporate leaders aren’t guaranteed perks, such as continued employment at a higher rate than their peers, once they retire. That’s essentially what presidents like Ono at UC or Hopkins at WSU will get once they retire and transition to top-paid tenure professors.
“The real question here is: has executive compensation in higher education gotten out of control?” Finkelstein said.
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