State Lawmakers Challenge Payout for University Leaders

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On Tuesday, August 27 several state lawmakers questioned some State of Illinois university officials and legal teams on the issue of the record of lucrative severance packages for outgoing administrators.

The most recent concern was the ouster of Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas. Thomas resigned earlier this year, but is on paid leave and will even get to return to the school as an English professor. In returning to the classroom he will be making either 75 percent of a future salary, or as much as $300,000 per year. Most of the financial conditions were negotiated in his 2011 employment contract. WIU will continue to pay Thomas’ $270,000 salary and benefits package until 2021 when his paid leave term will expire.

But he is not the only one. Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees ask for the resignation of then-President Randy Dunn in 2018. Dunn, who first began as president of SIU in 2014, came under fire after exposure to nearly 1,900 pages of university documents showed that he colluded with officials on the Edwardsville campus to bolster a funding reallocation proposal between the two campuses. The SIU Board of Trustees offered a separation agreement package and provided Dunn a six-month severance payment of $215,000. He would be rehired as a visiting professor at SIU Edwardsville campus for an annual salary of $100,000 beginning January 1, 2019.

One of the larger dismissals was Chicago State University President Thomas Calhoun Jr. Calhoun only lasted nine months in the job starting in January 2016. He would receive $600,000 as part of a separation agreement from the Chicago State Board. Calhoun’s abrupt departure — and sizable severance — came at a troubling time for the Chicago South Side public state university. The cash-strapped school had laid off about 40 percent of its employees that year, and its accreditation was at risk because of the financial strife. Student enrollment, like many other state colleges, had been declining for several years.

One of the largest of the community colleges also let its President go. The College of DuPage Board of Trustees fired its embattled President Robert Breuder. The Board of Trustees issued a resolution to terminate Breuder, 71, listing eight reasons for the decision, including excessive spending, poor financial oversight and failing to respond to requests made under the state’s open records laws. As a result of the firing, Breuder would no longer receive the $763,000 severance package he had negotiated to retire, three years before his contract expired. That deal reached earlier in 2015 but vilified by the college community and state lawmakers, led to the election of the three new trustees who vowed to find a way to fire Breuder and revoke the severance agreement. Breuder sued the College of Dupage and the college counter sued for 25 million dollars in damages.

Closer to home, four years after arriving as Northern Illinois University president promising a new era of ethical leadership, Doug Baker said he would resign in the wake of a bombshell state watchdog report that financial misconduct was being revied. Under a sweetheart deal from the Board of Regents, Baker would leave the university on June 30, 2017, which would be one year before his contract was to expire. He was paid one year’s salary, $450,000, plus benefits, an amount up to $30,000 to cover his legal expenses related to the university and $137,500 in a lump sum payment to surrender his rights as a tenured faculty member in the College of Business.

Legal events and activities at State Colleges and Universities will continue under the watchful eye of State Sen. Laura Murphy (D, Des Plaines), Illinois State Sen. Chapin Rose (R, Mahomet), State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D, Chicago) and others. Cunningham negotiated Illinois Senate Bills 3064 and 2159 which both were intended to curb a public employee’s ability to receive an unduly large severance package.

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