The practice of administrators “retreating” to faculty positions while retaining a large salary has been a higher education norm for decades, but the time of blithe acceptance is over.
Known as retreat rights, the UNC-system policies governing the practice will be under close scrutiny today and Friday, when the Board of Governors meets in Chapel Hill.
The key issues in retreat rights policy are limits on paid leave — compensated time off for administrators before they return to teach — and the salaries the former administrators receive when they rejoin the faculty ranks.
The system’s policy on both counts is more generous than at most public universities and lacks adequate accountability and specificity, UNC-system President Erskine Bowles said in a memorandum released last week.
The issue came to the forefront in August when The (Raleigh) News & Observer uncovered deals made for N.C. State University administrators, who later resigned.
The Board of Governors held broad discussions on the topic at its last two meetings, but this time members will delve into policy changes based on Bowles’ recommendations made in the same memorandum, said board chairwoman Hannah Gage.
The board has no intention of eliminating retreat rights, only of scaling back the benefits. Board members believe chancellors when they say that retreat rights are critical for hiring high-quality administrators, Gage said.
In the end, paid leaves will probably be shorter and the salaries more modest. A mechanism will be put in place for greater oversight of what former administrators do during their paid leave, she said.
There also will have to be greater consistency across the system, she said.
But some UNC-Chapel Hill officials expressed concern that scaling back retreat rights could be harmful to recruiting efforts.
The state’s benefits system is not competitive with the benefits that peer universities offer and retreat rights have traditionally been a way to balance that out, said Nelson Schwab, a former UNC-CH Board of Trustees member who led the search for Chancellor James Moeser’s replacement in 2008.
“It did become an important factor because there were certain elements of the compensation package that weren’t up to snuff,” he said. “The administrative leave thing was one element that could be added to make us more competitive.”
Ronald Strauss, UNC-CH executive associate provost, said the paid leave element of retreat rights is especially crucial for the individual and the University.
“Some people have looked as it as some form of reward or even vacation. It is not,” he said. “It’s that time they need for retooling.”
The paid leave time is intended to be used for research, publishing and other academic activities that will prepare a faculty member for reentering academia.
“(Without paid leave) many people wouldn’t even consider administrative roles. They would say, ‘Why should I? Why would I take that risk?’” he said. “You might not get the best, and we want the best.”
Approved UNC-CH retreats
27: number of administrators and department chairmen who “retreated” to faculty positions
$699,251.19: total amount added to the faculty salaries of former administrators
$87,649: total cost of allowing former department heads to retain chairmen stipends
$547,980.50: payment from state funds
$227,669.69: payment from non-state funds
*all figures from 2004-05 academic year to present
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