September 25, 2023

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Questionable Chancellor Payoffs?

Last week’s report that former Kansas University chancellor Gray-Little is being paid $510,041 to serve as a “special advisor” to the university probably came as a big surprise to the school’s faculty, alumni and many state legislators. This is the same amount she received in her final year as chancellor. There has been no word from university or KU Endowment Association officials if this salary arrangement is to be continued for another year.

The $280,523 from public sources and $229,518 from the KU Endowment Association was a shocker as was the justification for the payment. A Kansas Board of Regents spokesperson said the payment was in order as Gray-Little would be “helping the new Chancellor, at his or her request, become acquainted with the University’s unique programs, its several campuses and other areas.”

A KU spokesperson added, “Chancellor Gray-Little was incredibly helpful during the leadership transition last year and continues to provide invaluable counsel to various KU administrators on a variety of topics.”

The need to help Dr. Girod become “acquainted” with KU, a doctor who had been on the University’s Medical Center staff and a top administrator for a total of 23 years, seems strange and an overstatement.

In fact, the whole thing is a puzzle.

Is the $42,000 a month payment being made to Gray-Little because Regents and KU Endowment officials think she did a great job at the University? Is it based on the length of her reign? Hemenway served a longer chancellorship and received the equivalent of two-year’s salary…$680,000. Is it merely a bonus rather than for any necessary or essential services? Could it be a handsome and attractive offer designed to encourage her to step aside? Or, are there other reasons?

Was the payment made at the request of the Regents or did KU Endowment Association officials ask for the payment?

One thing is certain. The payments, whether to Gray-Little or Hemenway, and maybe other past chancellors, should send a strong signal to those who give their private money to the University. Particularly those who do not like or approve of the chancellor payoffs.

University and Endowment officials like “unrestricted” gifts. Money in this category can be, and is spent however a chancellor or Endowment officials may prefer. That’s where $229,518 of Gray-Little’s payment comes from and it’s possible some or all of the remaining $280,523 came from an unrestricted fund the chancellor’s office controls.

If a donor wants to make sure his or her money will be spent for a specific project of their choice, not just for anything the chancellor may like and think important or KU Endowment officials may like, that should be understood when the gift is made. “Unrestricted” gifts can and will be spent for most anything on the school’s wish or shopping list.

It’s understandable why many KU faculty members are concerned — “angry” about the payoffs. It’s also understandable why many state legislators question the size of the checks when KU officials continually say they are hard up and complain lawmakers are short-changing the University in its level of fiscal support for the school.

Being a chancellor is a tough job and those doing a good job, a really good job, should be rewarded with a very good salary. Competition for outstanding individuals to serve as chancellors is intense and this is what search committee members, selection committee members and Kansas Regents should be seeking. Good ones cost more, just like good football and basketball coaches cost more. You get what you pay for. KU should not settle for “second best” in any category or claim it cannot afford to pay top dollars for a top chancellor.

Most chancellor jobs come with many favorable extras. At KU for example, free housing, entertainment expenses, free car or cars, use of a private jet, in some cases a private driver, free tickets for University events, etc.

It’s up to taxpayers, Regents and lawmakers to decide the quality of chancellors or presidents they want for the state-aided schools and what they are willing to pay. In other words, how much importance do they place on the level of excellence and track record of those selected to lead our universities?

Is the Kansas pay scale for chancellors competitive? What kind of a grade would be given to past KU chancellors? Is KU attracting the best?

Are KU retirement payoffs reasonable or excessive?