Kaler's staff recommendation: End special leaves at U

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS
  • Star Tribune
  • May 14, 2012 - 8:31 PM

Paid leaves tailored for University of Minnesota executives would end under a recommendation made Monday by President Eric Kaler's staff.

So-called "administrative transitional leaves" ought to be eliminated, two of his lead staffers told a Board of Regents committee. Instead, administrators returning to the faculty could take traditional sabbaticals, less generous in pay and length.

A special regents committee will weigh that and other policy changes as it completes its work this month. The committee on executive compensation and leaves was formed after the Star Tribune reported that past U President Robert Bruininks regularly granted his departing executives lengthy paid leaves at their administrative salaries. The report also found that Bruininks repeatedly waived a university policy that executives repay their stipends if they leave the U.

Such exceptions would need regents' approval under proposals being considered by the regents committee. Amy Phenix, Kaler's chief of staff, told the committee that she believes such exceptions were a big reason behind the public outcry.

"What made people really frustrated ... was that even though university policy allowed a lot of discretion, the folks did take these leaves at their administrative salaries, not at their resumed faculty salaries," she said. "Not all of them did return to the university."

Kaler has promised to manage "these types of leaves in a very prudent way that is fair to the faculty," she said.

Rule for reimbursement

The U's policy on sabbaticals allows a faculty member to take a semester-long sabbatical with full salary and benefits and a yearlong leave at half-salary and full benefits. It says faculty members who do not return to the U "must reimburse the University for all or a prorated amount of the salary, retirement contributions, and value of benefits received during the leave."

It does allow for a written waiver to that rule.

Nearly all of the U's 43 top executives -- many of them vice presidents, chancellors and deans -- are also tenured faculty members eligible for sabbaticals, Phenix said. Getting rid of the administrative leaves would make clear that "if you're a faculty member, you have the same options as every other faculty."

Most universities that the U surveyed grant executives returning to the faculty paid leaves, which are intended to give them time to retool in their discipline, Phenix told the committee. But at most universities, such leaves are governed by the standard sabbatical policy, if governed at all. The U is an exception in having a different leave policy for administrators.

Regents want more info

It's likely the regents committee will also recommend that the Board of Regents get more information about an executive's compensation -- from start to severance.

That might include how a new executive's salary compares with the market, any major changes to compensation over his or her career at the U, and written approval of any "non-standard" arrangements in a separation agreement.

In the end, the regents expect they will have clearer, stronger policies than those at other universities.

Regents stressed Monday that greater scrutiny of executive compensation is badly needed, but must also leave enough room for the president to maneuver tricky personnel matters. After the Star Tribune's February report, many regents said they see very little about individual executives' compensation beyond a quick review of starting salary.

"I don't want to tie the president's hands with this process," said Regent John Frobenius. "But I don't want any future board chair to be responding to the media by saying, 'I was not aware of any of that.'"

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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