Dr. Richard Sullivan
The ISU campus is abuzz over the abrupt resignation of President Flanagan after just seven months on the job. The Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Saturday to accept Flanagan’s resignation and to appoint Dr. Larry Dietz to replace him.
I attended that meeting and am excited about the appointment of Dr. Dietz. He seems committed to the university and is highly regarded by the ISU community. But I’m having a much harder time wrapping my head around the Board’s decision to award a $480,000 lump sum severance payment to the outgoing President.
Everything we are told about the financial condition of our state, suggests we simply do not have money for, well, just about anything. Especially anything related to higher education. Pensions are being slashed, salaries for employees are frozen and tuition prices continue their upward climb. Where did the Board come up with a half-million dollars to pay someone for quitting his job?
To put size of the payoff into perspective, it means Flanagan received $70,000 (in addition to his $29,000 monthly salary) for each month of service to the university. That same $480,000 would pay my annual salary for nearly a decade. It would pay the salary of the typical ISU support staff — the ones who really make the university run — for the next 16 years. And it could pay that underappreciated part-time instructor to teach the Gen Ed course you’re taking for40 years!
Alternatively, that money could have paid the tuition bill this semester for 75 lucky ISU students. Or, for 10 much luckier students, it could have funded four full years of tuition expenses.
Board Chairperson Michael McCuskey explained after the meeting that the Trustees had to pay Flanagan because he was still under contract for the next two years. But just moments earlier his Board had told us that Flanagan quit. If Flanagan voluntarily left his position, why are we paying him?
I know enough about contracts to know that there are consequences for a party that breaks an agreement — and they usually don’t get rewarded for doing so. Can you imagine your landlord paying you for breaking your lease eight months early?
If I quit my job in the middle of the semester, the Trustees would certainly not pay me for the next year and a half while I sit at home on my couch eating Cheetos — unless perhaps I allegedly assault the neighbor kid who mows my lawn.
Of course it’s quite possible that Flanagan was asked to resign to save him the humiliation of being fired. Still, a half million U.S. dollars seems an excessively generous gesture to spare someone’s embarrassment — particularly in these financially lean times.
Perhaps it wasn’t Flanagan’s face the Board was trying to save. After all, his brief tenure also reflects poorly on the Trustees who hired him. The fact that he fizzled out so quickly might (and should) raise questions about the process and whether the Trustees can be trusted.
McCuskey said on Saturday that there is plenty of talent here at ISU and there was no need to conduct “an expensive” search for a replacement. If this were true, why did they pay a recruiting firm $89,000 to find Flanagan in the first place when the Trustees could have found a better candidate by posting the opening on a bulletin board in the Bone?
What makes this episode even more insulting was the dismissive attitude of the Board’s Chairperson in response to a reporter’s question about the size of the payoff. McCuskey acted as if the question was unreasonable and out of line. His contempt was so palpable that he might as well have given us all the bird — and I don’t mean Reggie.
If you take a half million dollars from the tax and tuition paying public, pack it in a suitcase and hand it to a guy who has been here a semester and a half, the officials responsible should expect to answer for it. Happy-talk from McCuskey about “moving forward” and inanities like “the past is over” are inadequate explanations unless you’re speaking to an audience of five-year-olds.
What is the lesson the Board of Trustee’s action sends to the ISU community? Act in a way that provokes legal action, fail to show up for work, then quit without giving two weeks’ notice and you will get P.A.I.D.
Many will ask: if there is enough money to handsomely reward those who fail to do their job on campus, where is the money for those who faithfully do their jobs every day?
Most students, faculty and staff at ISU are learning and teaching about things like accountability and taking responsibility for your actions. The Trustees, however, are showing us that these rules only apply to the “little people,” and that if you sit at the top of the power structure you need not trifle with things like accountability. Perhaps we ought to gladly teach them a lesson.
Dr. Richard Sullivan is an associate professor of sociology in Illinois State University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology.