REASONABLE PEOPLE might disagree over how soft a landing universities should offer their departing presidents, but surely everyone, including the University of Massachusetts board, should recognize the benefit of putting specific numbers in writing. Yet for some reason, UMass left unsettled the precise terms of former president Jack Wilson’s post-presidential employment — and left open at least the possibility that Wilson would earn nearly triple the pay of most senior faculty members.
There’s some value in letting university chiefs leave their administrative posts without leaving academia altogether, and other colleges have set a lofty standard for what they pay their former chiefs. Still, Wilson’s package is quite comfortable. This year, he’s keeping his $425,000 annual presidential salary while on a one-year sabbatical from UMass. (The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate, which Wilson is currently heading, is reimbursing the university for part of that.)
What happens next is unclear. Next year, he moves to a teaching position that, according to ambiguous language in the most recent written agreement, could in theory pay him up to $316,000. Wilson says he’s “ruled out’’ receiving a salary in that range, and has said he expected to be paid in the mid-$200,000s. (Wilson’s salary will be based on an average of the provosts of individual UMass campuses, and one source of uncertainty is whether the well-paid provost of the UMass medical school should be included in the calculation.)
And perhaps that’s the kind of figure UMass officials had in mind the whole time. Yet UMass’s failure to nail the numbers down in advance hardly bespeaks strong confidence in the deal. In any case, UMass should have specified terms for Wilson and then been ready to defend them to the UMass community as a whole.