Towson adds to tab for `closure'

University's ex-president, criticized for spending, to get $500,000, regent says

May 18, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Former Towson University President Mark L. Perkins, who resigned over excessive spending on his official residence, will receive nearly $500,000 - more than two years' salary - under a severance agreement with the University System of Maryland, says a regent familiar with the deal.

Another system source confirmed that a deal has been reached after weeks of negotiations but placed the package's worth as lower. The source did not have an exact estimate.

Perkins, who moved out of the presidential mansion last week and is living in an Inner Harbor condominium, could not be reached for comment. But the cost of the package - for a president who was in office less than a year - raised eyebrows on and off campus.

"That's a nice sum. This could be unprecedented in the history of public higher education in the state," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "I hope the board is in a position to defend it at some point, because members of my committee will be interested in finding out why this extraordinary settlement was reached."

Some sources close to the discussions said system negotiators viewed the deal as a victory, considering that Perkins had a strong contract and was pushing for far more than $500,000.

Several Towson University officials and faculty also welcomed the settlement yesterday.

"I'm happy closure has been reached," said Carl Behm, Towson's acting dean of academic affairs. "I hope it works out well for both sides."

Perkins resigned April 8 under pressure from the regents over Towson's spending on its new presidential mansion, which occurred as the university system was facing its tightest budget in a decade.

Regents also expressed concern about Towson's spending on Perkins' inauguration March 15, which included a $25,000 gold medallion made for the occasion and worn by Perkins.

Towson officials say it is likely that the medallion, which was paid for by private funds to be used at ceremonial events, will not be used at commencement next week. The robe worn by Perkins at his inauguration was designed to hold the medallion, but the robe is too large for interim President Dan Jones.

Jones, who is not living in the mansion, said this week that he will decide next week whether to wear the medallion.

The severance deal, details of which were reported by the Towson student newspaper, The Towerlight, roughly equals the money several state campuses will receive from a 1.5 percent tuition increase approved this week.

The deal brings the total of system funds spent during Perkins' nine-month tenure as president to more than $2.5 million. The rest of the tally includes:

About $50,000 on the search consultant who helped hire Perkins from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay last year.

$850,000 spent to purchase the mansion in Baltimore's Guilford neighborhood, five miles from campus. The regents approved the purchase at Perkins' urging last summer after university officials said it was in terrific shape and needed little work.

About $1 million spent on improvements at the house, including a $25,000 home entertainment system, $70,000 elevator and $30,000 in Persian rugs.

The Sun reported in March that the university admitted to $600,000 in spending, but a subsequent audit by the regents put the spending closer to $1 million. Perkins said the upgrades were needed to entertain potential university donors.

Close to $200,000 in pay for Perkins, who was to earn $208,000 a year. When the regents forced him to resign in April, they agreed to pay him for another month.

Those familiar with the severance discussions say the talks were highly contentious and close to collapse as recently as last week, when Perkins collected his final paycheck. At one point, Perkins was seeking as much as $1 million in compensation, while several regents were opposed to giving him any severance, sources say.

The negotiations centered on the nature of Perkins' departure, sources say. His three-year contract included a sizable severance package in the event of a resignation, but far less in the event of dismissal for cause.

Perkins' lawyers argued that he had resigned, while the system's lawyers pointed out that Perkins would have been fired if he hadn't resigned.

Also at issue was whether Perkins would stay on at Towson as a tenured professor, as his contract allowed. Negotiators discussed the possibility that Perkins could stay on indefinitely as a professor, carrying a minimal teaching load while collecting, at least at the outset, his full presidential salary.

Given that Perkins could have earned more than $1 million over time that way, system negotiators concluded that a one-time settlement of almost $500,000 would save money.

Towson faculty and officials said it was unclear where Perkins would work next. But they agreed it was probably better that he decided not to return to the campus as a professor.

"A lot of people felt that would have been a very uncomfortable situation," said communications professor Richard Vatz. "I don't think he'd enjoy it either."

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