Silence is not golden

Our view : The overgenerous retirement package given Morgan State University's president and others shows why Maryland needed to rein in compensation for higher-ed executives

October 07, 2008

No one would argue that a college president who successfully leads an institution through a quarter-century of growth and development shouldn't enjoy a comfortable retirement. But that's not the same thing as the Wall Street-style golden parachute Morgan State University President Earl S. Richardson has negotiated for himself.

After Mr. Richardson retires in 2009 from his $389,000-a-year job as president of one of the nation's oldest historically black colleges and universities, he'll remain on the school payroll, get an equally impressive office and collect $300,000 annually as president emeritus - even though his only duties will be to teach a couple of graduate courses a year.

That sweet deal is highly unusual, and just recently made public; only two other state college presidents, the heads of the University of Maryland, College Park and Salisbury University, have similar contracts. But what makes Mr. Richardson's deal doubly curious is that he's entitled to such largess even if he's fired for incompetence or misconduct. It's like a blank check for life with no strings attached - and no one deserves that.

Mr. Richardson's accomplishments are impressive. Since taking over one of the storied black institutions of higher learning in 1984, Mr. Richardson has overseen an ambitious expansion of the school's academic programs and a major overhaul of its physical plant. In the process, he helped transform Morgan from an unprepossessing small urban college to a doctoral-level research university.

He ruffled feathers to keep Morgan out of the University System of Maryland; the school is overseen by a separate board of governors that includes such high-profile directors as Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and former Congressman Kweisi Mfume. Though the board has had problems with absentee members, the arrangement enhanced Morgan's ability to lobby Annapolis directly for hundreds of millions of dollars to make up for previous decades of neglect. And though Mr. Richardson's combative style hasn't always endeared him to lawmakers, he has delivered results that enabled Morgan to thrive.

But with state revenues feeling the pinch of the economic downturn, any arrangement that smacks of excessive executive compensation regardless of performance is suspect. University System Chancellor William E. Kirwan admitted as much when he noted that the state system's governing board no longer makes those kinds of deals. That may be about the only good news to be gleaned from reports of Mr. Richardson's good fortune.

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