A UNC system policy guaranteeing chancellors a one-year leave at full pay when they leave the top job plays a key role in recruiting top talent, the leaders of five of North Carolina’s public universities said Thursday.
This group of campus chancellors, which included UNC Chapel Hill’s Holden Thorp and N.C. Central University’s Charlie Nelms, spoke today at a workshop for members of the UNC system’s Board of Governors, which is likely to scale back the four-year-old “retreat rights” policy in the coming months.
The current policy allows a university president or chancellor retiring after at least five years of service a one-year “retreat” at full administrative pay, followed by a return to the faculty. Their salary then would be 60 percent of what they earned as chancellor or president.
Rosemary DePaolo, now in her seventh year as chancellor at UNC Wilmington, said the retreat rights policy, while difficult for those outside academia to digest, is a critical piece of the compensation package for people considering a leadership post at a public university. These are difficult, stressful jobs, so potential chancellors want to know they’ll be taken care of it they become unpopular on their campus.
“We do need a cushion upon which to fall back, because falling back is all too likely,” said DePaolo, who is the second longest-tenured chancellor in the UNC system, behind only John Bardo, Western Carolina’s leader since 1995. “These are high-risk jobs with high turnover. You might not like [retreat rights] philosophically, but this is a business and we have to compete.”
The "retreats right" policy has been employed broadly at North Carolina's 16 public universities, UNC records show. Over the past five years, taxpayers have paid about $8 million to 117 administrators who either returned to the faculty or left the university. In 24 cases, the payouts were for $100,000 or more.
A recent News & Observer review found that these agreements, along with other transitional payments, offered sizable sums of money with few or no strings attached, in at least three cases violated UNC system policies and in some cases rewarded administrators with as much as a year's salary for a job poorly done.
For more on this story, read Friday's News & Observer.