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New College to shoulder hidden costs of presidential search process

Written by on Wednesday, August 2, 2023

New College of Florida publicly announced the three finalists in its search for a permanent president, and the big bump in pay awarded to the next president will need to be paid for by the college itself.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: August 2, 2023


Official Transcript

Host: New College of Florida publicly announced the three finalists in its search for a permanent president. Hidden within the search process, however, is a fact that the college will have to live with beyond its next leader. The Presidential Search Committee’s proceedings make it clear that the big bump in pay the college’s trustees granted Interim President Richard Corcoran early this year, has entered the system and will be hard to reverse. Our news team has the report.

Yesterday, New College issued a press release about the three finalists its Presidential Search Committee came up with. The current interim president, a candidate with prime administrative credentials and no political background, and an assistant professor without any major administrative experience.

Another subject of controversy was not directly addressed by the search committee: the bump in pay for the next president. And the proceedings of the committee seemed to make clear that the college will have to live with that kind of compensation from now on.

At a search committee meeting on July 5, a hired consulting firm recommended to the committee a wide salary and compensation package range that included the pay bump the college’s trustees granted the current interim president in February. Richard Corcoran enjoys a salary and compensation package that is close to three times that of his predecessor.

Mercer, the consultant, by Florida regulation had to take into account “compensation paid to the current president,” as well as “the available qualified pool and relevant competition for candidates.”

With that, the company came up with a wide salary range from close to $500,000 to close to $900,000, and a total compensation package that ranges from close to $900,000 to more than $1.5 million. With that precedent set, New College has become an outlier within the outlier state of Florida, says a compensation expert.

WSLR News asked Dr. James Finkelstein, author of a recent study published by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Dr. James Finkelstein: What’s happening in Florida is not what’s necessarily happening in other parts of the country. While it is true, based on our research, that the compensation for university presidents, and particularly for public university presidents, been increasing—and it’s been increasing much more rapidly than the compensation for faculty. Florida has taken this to a new level.

Ben Sasse, when he was appointed as President University of Florida, had a very lucrative compensation package. But University of Florida is a major research university. It’s a member of the AAU, it’s a prestigious institution. New College—and it’s a large institution. New College is a very small college. It is considered an elite public liberal arts college, but it’s elite in part because there aren’t very many of them around the country.

And if you look at the compensation of liberal arts college presidents, private liberal arts college presidents, they’re not among the most highly paid presidents in the country. So this compensation package at New College that the current president has, we’ve written about, and found it to be significantly out of line with the compensation for presidents of comparable institutions.

And certainly, compared to what the Interim President was making when he was in his previous position with the Florida Department of Education, it’s almost five times I believe, what he was making there.

Host: Finkelstein believes Florida taxpayers should be concerned.

JF: What we think is going on here, and this has happened in Florida, it’s happened in Texas and it’s happening in other parts, mostly in the South—that these public university presidencies are becoming patronage positions. Where governing boards and governors are increasingly turning to—I know this has a pejorative context to it—but turning to cronies and placing them in these positions with salaries considerably more than their predecessors made.

And this year I think that people have, in Florida, in terms of New College. is that that’s going to happen yet again. And it should be of concern to the citizens of Florida, because this is a public official. This isn’t a president of a corporation. This is a public employee who is going to be making over a million dollars.

Host: Florida statutes cap pay for public university presidents at close to $200,000. The current arrangement for Corcoran circumvents this by having the foundation connected to New College pay the difference. But that is problematic too, says Finkelstein.

JF: This is not uncommon. But there are lots of ways that universities get around this. Because the salary itself has to come, is paid by the university. And what happens in these cases is that these foundations reimburse the university for the cost of the compensation package. Because if the foundation was paying it itself, then the president probably wouldn’t be getting the same, participating in the same retirement program, in the same healthcare benefits program, and the like.

So we’ve seen instances where the governing boards make commitments on behalf of a university’s foundation, and the foundation doesn’t have the money to pay. So what has to happen in that case is they manipulate things and say, “Well, we’re going to use non-appropriated funds,” which is usually the restriction in these states that have such a restriction. They say, “the president’s salary can’t exceed a certain amount paid for from appropriated funds, but there are non-appropriated funds that universities have as well,” so they make it up in a different way.

Host: This has been Johannes Werner for WSLR News.


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