Two legislators warn that the compensation package for the soon-to-be former athletic director will affect U's chances for funds.
University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler, left, listens as athletic director Joel Maturi, who spent a decade serving the Golden Gophers, addresses the media during news conference announcing his retirement, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, in Minneapolis. Maturi will leave his post when his contract expires this summer.
Joel Maturi's compensation package after retiring as University of Minnesota athletic director could hurt the university's future state funding, two legislators who serve on higher education committees said Friday.
On July 1, a day after he retires as AD, Maturi will begin a one-year appointment as a special assistant to university President Eric Kaler. Maturi will receive the same base salary he earns as athletic director -- $351,900 -- plus a standard university benefits package (health insurance and retirement totaling slightly more than 33 percent of his salary) that will push his compensation to more than $468,000.
Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, the lead DFLer on the House Education Finance Committee, described the package as "a golden parachute'' that "will hurt the U when President Kaler comes crying poor to the Legislature for money for our students.''
Sen. David Brown, R-Becker, a member of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said he did not want to micro-manage every decision made by Kaler and the university's regents, saying legislators would ultimately have a say in the makeup of the regents if they disagreed with policy. But he also predicted that legislators would not forget Maturi's deal at budget time.
"It will influence us when they come to the Legislature and we've read these kinds of stories, yes,'' Brown said. "How badly do they need money if that's how they're handling it? I don't think the Higher Ed Committee is going to jump in [at this point], but again, it is going to influence what we think is necessary for budgeting.''
Kaler said on Thursday, the day Maturi announced his retirement, that Maturi's compensation will come from the University of Minnesota Foundation -- essentially donor-raised money -- rather than from funding the school receives from the Legislature. On Friday, Kaler's office said that Maturi's salary will not come directly from donors, but rather from interest on investments earned from endowments in the foundation that are placed annually in a presidential discretionary fund.
"The university takes very seriously the feedback we've received from legislators, positive and negative, and President Kaler and his team consider this feedback very carefully,'' university spokesman Chuck Tombarge said after a meeting with Kaler's staff. "To be clear, no state or donor funds will be used to pay for Mr. Maturi's salary, but certainly if legislators have concerns, the administration stands ready to meet with them and discuss those concerns.''
Kaler declined a request for an interview.
Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, chair of the Higher Education Committee, has said she does not think Maturi's salary is a legislative issue because it does not come from tax dollars. She said the issue is between the university and its donors.
Greiling said she disagrees, and was not swayed by the argument that Maturi's pay would not come directly from donors since the investment income is in an unrestricted fund that could also be directed toward academic matters.
"I think it is definitely a direct legislative issue, because these kinds of salaries make legislators think, 'Does the U really need money and why don't they ever put it toward students when we give it to them?'" Greiling said. "Once again, it looks like the university is putting students last in terms of their budgets when we see things like this.''
Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who serves on the Capital Investment Committee and whose district includes numerous university employees, said she has become almost immune to university decisions that she believes show the wrong priorities.
"I don't think any of us buy the argument [that foundation money makes it acceptable], but they give the argument with a straight face,'' she said.
Maturi is being paid $351,900 in base salary this year, and will receive an additional $100,000 in a retirement account in June, increasing his retirement income to $685,000 since becoming AD in 2002. He can also earn up to $170,000 a year in bonuses by meeting incentives for academics, Directors' Cup standings (for overall athletic department performance) and management efficiency.
His $451,900 compensation package this year ranks about in the middle of the Big Ten's 12 athletic directors, most of whom earn between $400,000 and $550,000, according to a USA Today database.
Maturi's duties as a special assistant will include fundraising, teaching and course curriculum work in the College of Education and the Department of Kinesiology, and helping with the transition of a new AD, expected to be hired by July 1.
Whether those duties are worthy of his compensation package is a matter of opinion.
"Whether true or not, in the grand schemes, perception is reality at the Legislature," Greiling said. "The university has the image of living in its own ivory towers, and this is just one more example.''