Top administrators at Illinois public colleges and universities “are enjoying extensive perks and a lack of accountability.”
That’s according to a report released Friday by the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus detailing the cost of executive benefits and compensation at the state’s higher education institutions.
Examples highlighted in the report include an annual housing stipend of $35,000 for the president of Governors State University in south suburban Chicago, memberships at the Sangamo Club and Illini Country Club for the president of Springfield’s Lincoln Land Community College and $887,000 in total compensation provided in one year to a former University of Illinois at Chicago chancellor.
Vehicles were also among the benefits cited in the report. George Dammer, former president of South Suburban College in South Holland, received $27,000 to purchase a car as part of his initial contract. And Lori Sundberg, president of Galesburg-based Carl Sandburg College, gets an annual vehicle stipend of $20,200. When it comes to retirement benefits, the report noted that Elign Community College, for example, covers contributions to the State Universities Retirement System (SURS) for its president, David Sam, plus $30,000 annually for his two other retirement plans.
“At the same time tuition and student debt are rising at a breakneck pace, the administrative systems of public institutions have expanded into sprawling behemoths, with some of those at the very top enjoying lavish perks, including expense accounts, club memberships, vehicles and golden parachute severance payments,” the report reads. “Despite the state’s transparency laws, many of these agreements are done in secret, denying the public the right to weigh in on the appropriateness of such generous packages, while students suffocate under non-dischargeable debt.”
The investigation into and report on executive compensation at public colleges and universities was spearheaded by the Illinois Senate’s Higher Education Subcommittee on Executive Compensation, which was formed in February.
Formation of the special subcommittee and its probe into the executive compensation issue came shortly after College of DuPage Board of Trustees approved a controversial $763,000 severance package for President Robert Breuder, who was placed on paid administrative leave late last month amid recently-launched investigations by federal and DuPage County prosecutors into spending problems and other issues at the college.
Additionally, the Illinois auditor general will be conducting an audit of the College of DuPage, as required by a House resolution lawmakers passed earlier this month. The College of DuPage is paying for the state audit.
In its report, the Senate Democratic Caucus highlights Breuder’s “golden parachute” as well as other large buyout deals between higher education institutions and administrators, including the $480,418 in severance given to former Illinois State University Timothy Flanagan last year as part of a separation agreement.
Executives at public universities and community colleges, the report adds, have employment contract agreements that tend to run several years beyond their start date. That reality plus severance deals between institutions and executives “may have an outsized impact should the administrator and the school separate before the contract is up,” the report says.
Transparency concerns surrounding the “process of creating and altering executive compensation packages” are also raised in the report. For example, state legislators point out that the College of DuPage’s Board of Trustees didn’t make public the details of Breuder’s severance agreement before initially voting on it. Following public scrutiny over the move, the board held a re-vote on the severance package.
Top earning executives at Illinois public universities and community colleges are listed in the report.
At Illinois public universities, former University of Illinois at Chicago Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares received the largest amount in fiscal year 2014, pulling in $887,244. That includes $450,000 in deferred compensation as part of a “retention incentive,” which came on top of her base pay of $437,244. For community colleges, Dale Chapman, president at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, earned the most in fiscal year 2014, garnering $540,403 in total compensation.
Administrative costs at the state’s higher education institutions have grown dramatically in recent years while tuition has increased significantly, the report says.
For example, the number of full-time administrative staff at public Illinois universities ticked up 31.1 percent from 2004 to 2010. Over the same time, full-time faculty and students at public Illinois universities increased by 1.8 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, average tuition at public universities increased almost $4,100 over the past decade, according to the report.
“This report found that many public colleges and universities have been too quick to award lavish benefits to their executives and increase the number of administrative employees they assign to non-instructional post[s],” said state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago), chair of the Illinois Senate’s Higher Education Subcommittee on Executive Compensation. “While these practices are never welcome, they are particularly troubling during difficult budgetary times and when college tuition rates have grown faster than any other expenses faced by middle class families.”
The report includes several recommended reforms, including prohibiting public university and college employment contracts from including country club memberships, requiring annual performance reviews of administrators and setting limits on severance pay and contract lengths. Lawmakers are recommending that the Illinois “Auditor General take over auditing for all community colleges,” and they are also calling for contracts at public universities and colleges, “including all annuities, bonuses, housing, vehicles, technology, club memberships, and retirement enhancements,” to be made public 30 days prior to a board vote.
A series of hearings on the report are expected to be held over the summer, according to Cunningham, who hopes to have reform legislation approved in the fall.
“When you look at the numbers in this report, they indicate a trend of bloated administrations at our public universities and community colleges,” Cunningham added. “If the General Assembly is going to invest more in higher education, we want to insure those investments are going directly into the classroom and not to more administration.”