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Brandeis alumni, students angry over ex-president’s pay

Some point to cuts at Brandeis while former president Jehuda Reinharz is still being paid.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

Some point to cuts at Brandeis while former president Jehuda Reinharz is still being paid.

More than 1,000 Brandeis University students, alumni, and others with ties to the school signed a petition this week expressing outrage after learning Jehuda Reinharz received at least $1.2 million for part-time work since stepping down as president at the end of 2010.

Former students and faculty said the payments were particularly irksome because they came at a time when the university was forced to make painful spending cuts because of tight finances, while continuing to raise tuition faster than inflation.

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“It’s just a slap in the face,” said Sahar Massachi, 24, who earned two degrees in computer science from Brandeis and started the petition with other alumni. “I have friends who had to drop out of Brandeis because the tuition was so high and professors who were forced to leave Brandeis because of budget cuts.”

Meanwhile, faculty leaders vowed to register their own concerns to Reinharz and the board of trustees over Reinharz’s pay, perhaps as a letter or series of meetings.

“The faculty is dismayed and frustrated by the size of the payments,” said Eric Chasalow, a music professor and chair of the Faculty Senate, noting that the faculty have been squeezed by budget cuts.

Reinharz, who was speaking at a school event in New York Wednesday, was not available for comment, but previously said he deserved the money because of his past achievements as president. The Waltham college, meanwhile, issued a statement defending the deal, citing Reinharz’s “unparalleled fund-raising record and strong relationships with people and organizations closely tied to Brandeis.” The school said Reinharz has a lengthy list of duties, including helping raise money for the school and advise the new president, Frederick Lawrence.

As the Globe reported Sunday, Reinharz earned more than $622,474 in salary and benefits from Brandeis in 2011, even though he doesn’t teach any classes or run any departments, in addition to $800,000 he earned that year as president of the Mandel Foundation, a longtime Brandeis benefactor. Reinharz, who has an office on campus partially paid for by the foundation, declined to estimate how many hours he works at either job, but said he spent the first year after stepping down on sabbatical.

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Like Reinharz, a number of college presidents around the country have received large exit packages when they left, which critics say it emblematic of school’s unrestrained spending that is helping drive up the cost of college. A former president of Wellesley College remained on the payroll for two years — earning $430,000 annually — after she stepped down and her formal duties ended. And Tufts gave its former leader a $1.7 million payout when he retired two years ago.

Reinharz’s critics say they were particularly disappointed because Brandeis was named after a leader in social justice, former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. And despite significant financial aid, Brandeis students who need loans take on an average of $28,000 in debt by the time they leave, slightly above average for colleges nationwide.

“It makes me sick to my stomach that students graduated from Brandeis in debt . . . while some of the money they will be paying off over their lifetimes will enrich a former president,” said Ari Rabin-Havt, a Brandeis alum and host of a liberal talk show on SiriusXM RadioProgress 127, who signed the petition.

In addition, the school now faces a $6.5 million deficit, according to the student newspaper, The Justice. Similarly, just months before signing the deal with Reinharz in 2009, the school said it was facing such dire financial circumstances that it had to temporarily suspend retirement contributions for employees, lay off dozens of staffers, and consider selling some of the art in its campus museum — an idea it later abandoned after a lawsuit and protests.

Despite the bad timing, the faculty senate chief noted that Reinharz also made a huge contribution to the school by raising $1.2 billion during his 16 years as president before stepping down — boosting the endowment and renovating or adding more than two dozen buildings during his tenure.

Sylvia Barack Fishman, chair of the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department, noted that Reinharz has been a valuable mentor to faculty and students, despite his lack of teaching duties.“The entire university continues to benefit from the President Emeritus’ ongoing work for Brandeis University,” Fishman said. She said she could not comment, however, on whether his post-presidential pay was justified.

As part of the deal struck with he stepped down, Reinharz earned $500,000 in salary in 2011 and was allowed to remain in the presidential home for the first half of 2011. Since then, he has been earning $287,5000 and is scheduled to step down to $180,000 a year in July 2014 (45 percent more than the median pay for full professors at the school, even though Reinharz has a half-time appointment). Reinharz declined to estimate how many hours he works for the school or his other job, but the university said his contract permits him to do outside consulting.

The Globe also raised questions about the Mandel Foundation’s federal filings, which said Reinharz was an unpaid board member — even though he appears to have received $800,000 in consulting fees from the foundation’s affiliates in 2011.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio attorney general said the agency is “concerned with any potential inaccuracies in filings,” but the IRS has jurisdiction over errors on federal tax forms. An IRS spokeswoman declined comment.

However, both Massachusetts and the federal government have been increasingly scrutinizing executive compensation at nonprofits.

The IRS found many colleges based executive pay on studies of compensation at other institutions that were not truly similar. In the case of Reinharz, Brandeis trustees relied on a list of what ex-presidents received at 10 other schools, including Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania, both of which are larger and wealthier than Brandeis. The Brandeis list also excluded schools that did not pay their former presidents.

The Massachusetts attorney general, meanwhile, expects to release her own report on pay practices at nonprofits, including colleges, soon.

“Large compensation packages do and should raise questions about whether they are truly necessary in order for these organizations to attract and retain the best executive talent,” said Brad Puffer, a spokesman for the attorney general.

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.

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