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Golden Parachutes of NJ Public College Presidents Cost Millions

Retiring college presidents can look forward to sabbaticals at full or partial pay, teaching positions, even automobiles

pruitt and gitenstein
George Pruitt of Thomas Edison State University and R. Barbara Gitenstein of The College of New Jersey

This is the second in a two-part package detailing the salaries and benefits awarded the presidents of New Jersey’s public colleges. Read the first story.

For departing New Jersey public college presidents, their farewell payments, perks, and positions can resemble lottery jackpots. Not left to chance, these windfalls are carefully crafted into their employment contracts.

George Pruitt of Thomas Edison State University in Trenton is slated to receive $1.7 million in payouts after his presidency ends. It begins with a one-year paid sabbatical leave at his presidential salary, currently $337,000 -- and a new title, president emeritus. (Follow this link to a list breaking out salaries and perks for public college presidents.)

When he returns from sabbatical, Pruitt will begin a five-year fellowship to conduct research at TESU’s John S. Watson School of Public Service. He’ll get 80 percent of his former salary -- another $1.348 million or more. To top it off, the university will pay a $10,000 lump sum to cover Pruitt’s relocation expenses.

University officials defended the deal and suggested that Pruitt’s fellowship could be extended beyond five years.

“The board takes its responsibility in setting the president’s compensation very seriously and believes Dr. Pruitt’s current compensation and contract is prudent and appropriate,” said Brian Maloney, chair of the TESU board of trustees, in a prepared statement.

“Why would a president who runs an institution that’s totally online get this kind of compensation?” countered Susanna Tardi, vice president for higher education at the New Jersey chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. A university without a traditional faculty, TESU offers graduate and undergraduate degrees through online studies.

“There’s a lot of money that is wasted in higher education because of the lack of top-down accountability,” added Tardi.

At least 13 current presidents have an express option to work in other six-figure positions at their institutions when they step down. Nine of those chief executives can begin their post-presidential careers with generous paid sabbaticals, according to a NJ Spotlight analysis of employment contracts obtained under the Open Public Records Act.

The arrangements include:

  • Susan Cole of Montclair State University can take a one-year sabbatical at her full salary, now $403,650, before she joins the faculty as a tenured professor teaching two courses a year. If she doesn’t take the position, she still gets $403,650 as a performance bonus.

  • Joel Bloom of New Jersey Institute of Technology can become president emeritus for two years at 75 percent of his salary. That would bring in $832,000 based on his present pay of $550,000 per annum.

  • Robert Barchi of Rutgers University can take a sabbatical that will continue his $676,260 salary for another year after his contract expires in 2017. After that, he’ll have the opportunity to join the faculty in a lucrative position.

  • R. Barbara Gitenstein of The College of New Jersey can accept one year of salary, presently $335,341, as severance pay. Or she can take a 12-month sabbatical for the same pay, before she starts work as TCNJ’s highest-paid distinguished professor.

Gitenstein is entitled to other extras on her way out. TCNJ will pay her $20,000 to relocate and up to 60 days pay for unused vacation. The college will also give her free title to the automobile it leases for her personal and professional use as president.

“They are fairly standard for a college president,” said TCNJ spokesman David Muha.

Three other presidents have similar deals -- one-year sabbaticals at full pay followed by the option of working as tenured professors. They are Dawood Farahi of Kean University ($302,550), Harvey Kesselman of Stockton University ($320,000), and Kathleen Walrdon of William Paterson University ($324,000).

Sue Henderson of New Jersey City University also gets sabbatical leave, but at 75 percent of her $295,000 salary.

Most of the bon voyage bonanzas are contingent on how the presidents behaved on the job. If a president is fired for cause -- such as fraud, embezzlement or sex offenses -- the college trustees can often stop all pay and benefits.

Ali Houshmand of Rowan University is an exception. Regardless of how or why he leaves the presidency, he has a contractual right to return as full-professor with tenure in both the engineering and the education colleges.

The contract states that even if Houshmand is found guilty of a felony, sexual harassment, moral turpitude, or any intentional violation of his duties while serving as president, he would still have a guaranteed job at Rowan.

“Houshmand has the retreat right to his faculty position … upon termination with or without cause by the trustees,” the agreement states.

The same agreement offers him more than a half-million reasons to keep the board of trustees happy. If he leaves as president on good terms, he can take a one-year sabbatical at presidential pay -- currently $550,000 -- before he rejoins the faculty.

Few, if any other public officials in New Jersey receive the parachutes that many college presidents enjoy. The contracts are approved by each school’s governing board. There are no limits or guidelines set by the state.

In addition to the wide range of post-employment benefits detailed in contracts, presidents may also qualify for state pensions -- the most common retirement benefit offered to public employees in New Jersey.

Former Essex County College president A. Zachary Yamba has collected $195,000 a year since 2010. Based on Yamba’s $277,000 final salary and 42 years of service, it is the largest pension benefit paid to any retiree in the state pension system.

Mark Lagerkvist is a veteran investigative reporter who has worked for CNBC, News 12, Asbury Park Press, New Jersey Watchdog, and other newspaper, television and online news outlets. His work has won more than 60 journalism awards, including honors from National Press Club, Scripps Howard Foundation, and Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE). He can be reached at Mark@Lagerkvist.net.

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