Former Springfield College president Richard B. Flynn shepherded the small private school through 14 years of growth and prosperity, and for that the school wanted to thank him. So after Flynn retired in 2013, he was handsomely rewarded — with $4.1 million.
That payment of deferred compensation is 12 times his base salary in his final year on the job, according to tax documents filed this year with the state.
While departure payments are not uncommon for university presidents, the size of the payout seemed extravagant to students and higher education specialists, especially at a time when many students nationwide are struggling under a mountain of college debt.
The 5,000 students at Springfield College pay $47,000 in annual tuition plus room and board, making Flynn's payment equal to the annual cost for 87 full-paying students.
"If there is $4 million laying around, it is absolutely possible for college tuition to be lowered," said former Springfield student Amanda Zacchia, who recently transferred in part because of the school's rising costs.
To put Flynn's compensation in perspective: Columbia University's Lee Bollinger, the highest-paid private college president in 2013 among schools analyzed by the Chronicle of Higher Education, received $4.6 million in total compensation that year, in the most recent complete data from the Chronicle. The second-highest-paid private college president, Amy Gutmann at the University of Pennsylvania, made $3 million in 2013.
Springfield College spokesman Stephen Roulier said Thursday it is misleading to characterize Flynn's one-year compensation as $4.1 million, even though he was paid that much in 2014. Roulier said it is more accurate to say that Flynn was paid his base salary — $324,359 — plus accrued vacation and retirement benefits, which totalled $3.7 million.
"It is 15 years of the president's deferring income; it is 15 years of investment income; it is 15 years of vacation that was not used and was then paid for. That seems pretty clear — this is a 15-year number," he said.
Flynn received the pay a year after he officially retired because he first took a year of sabbatical. His payout included $202,000 in unused vacation, Roulier said.
According to the Chronicle, the $3.7 million "other compensation" payment to Flynn is the eighth-largest single-year payment in that category from a private college in the country since the publication began collecting the data in 2008.
Flynn did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.
William G. Tierney, a professor and codirector of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California, said $4 million to the leader of a small college seems "extraordinarily generous."
"The point is less that an individual was able to negotiate such a buyout — good for him — but that the board accepted it," Tierney said in an e-mail Thursday.
"The board is the one responsible here, and they are being fiscally negligent, or at least need to explain why this individual has received such a remarkable payout," he added. "And they then need to explain to the janitorial staff and the faculty why they are not similarly compensated."
Douglass L. Coupe , who was chairman of the board at the end of Flynn's tenure, declined to comment Thursday when reached by phone at his home in South Carolina. He referred all questions to the school's attorney.
The current board president, Gregory C. Toczydlowski, could not be reached for comment.
Flynn led Springfield College, known as the birthplace of basketball and for its programs in physical therapy and physical education, from 1999 until August 2013. An announcement posted on the school's website in his final year said his accomplishments include expanding enrollment and student life activities, creating new programs and facilities, and leading the most successful fund-raising campaign in the college's history. He had planned to retire in 2011 but stayed an extra two years after a 2011 tornado and snowstorm damaged the campus.
Springfield has a relatively small endowment of $63.5 million, up from $46.3 million four years ago, according to the school's most recent tax filings with the state attorney general's office, whose charities division oversees nonprofits.
Much of Flynn's retirement payout came from a 457(f) account, a type of retirement account that accrued interest during his tenure, the filings show.
In 2014, when he completed his contract, he received a lump sum of $3.2 million, including $2.1 million in contributions and the remainder in interest income and gains over the life of the investment, the school said.
Zacchia, the student who transferred, said she now commutes to the University of Hartford from her home in Connecticut. Tuition at Springfield, like at most schools, rose every year, she said. But other fees also piled up, especially in her physical therapy classes.
"I think it only further proves that college costs are unnecessarily overpriced," she said.