Post-Retirement Salary Offer Helped UNH Navigate Financial Storm, Official Says

Jul 31, 2019

The University of New Hampshire updated former president Mark Huddleston’s contract to include the promise of a year of full salary after retirement in order to help the school weather a financial crisis, according to a top official with the state university system.

Joseph Morone, chair of the university system’s board of trustees, told NHPR that Huddleston’s 12-month, post-retirement “transitional salary” was not part of his original employment agreement. Rather, it was added six years into his time at UNH, and a year after a deep cut in state funding for the university system took effect. 

According to the contract that took effect in 2013, Huddleston was eligible for a full year of his base salary with benefits after he retired from the president’s office in June 2018, as long as he returned to the university to teach. That salary was the same as his last year as president: $425,000, the second-highest salary for a public official in New Hampshire after current UNH President Jim Dean.

Huddleston was appointed UNH president in 2007. Before his 2013 contract, his employment was set by “annual letters of appointment” rather than a multi-year contract, according to USNH communications director Lisa Thorne. Prior to that contract, Huddleston was offered only a six-month transitional salary after retirement. But in the 2013 negotiations, which established a five-year contract, USNH bumped that up to a full year to encourage Huddleston to stay with UNH during a rocky time, Morone said.

That new contract took effect shortly after USNH’s state funding was cut nearly in half by the New Hampshire legislature. Beginning in the 2012 state budget, lawmakers reduced higher education funding from $100 million per year to $51 million.

“It’s really important to think about the context when this took place,” Morone said. “That was a unique moment, and it was a tough moment for UNH. We were vulnerable. And so the board, with very limited tools at its discretion, was in a limited bargaining position. It did what it needed to do to hold on to a really good president at the time that it was vulnerable.”

A change in university pay packages

Morone also said that the university system’s administrative payment practices have changed since Huddleston’s contract was written in 2013. Contracts for current presidents of New Hampshire’s other state universities, provided to NHPR from USNH, appear to bear that out. President Melinda Treadwell of Keene State College, for instance, has a full-year transitional pay period at a faculty teaching salary level, rather than at her current salary of $300,000. President Donald Birx of Plymouth State University can receive six months at his full salary, currently at $345,000, before transitioning back to the faculty. 

And current UNH president Jim Dean, who earns $455,000, is eligible for six months of transitional pay after he retires, as opposed to Huddleston’s full year. That salary would be at a level associated with his future teaching position and determined through collective bargaining, according to his contract. Dean has tenure as a full professor in UNH’s Paul School of Business and Economics.

Morone said transition packages at lower pay levels, like Dean’s, are now the norm at the state university system.

“We have become much more sophisticated in our compensation practices,” Morone said. “One way we brought them tightly in alignment is, if there’s transitional pay provided, our standard practice is to now offer contracts like [current UNH President Dean’s].”

"Shocked" reaction from some faculty

Though USNH officials and experts in college president contracts have all said that transitional salaries are common among college presidents, news of Huddleston’s deal has sparked concern among some of UNH’s teaching faculty. 

Molly Campbell, president of UNH’s lecturer faculty union, said lecturers were “shocked” to hear about Huddleston’s deal. 

“To have this message that there is money for Mark Huddleston, but there is no money for people who make the university run is shocking, to say the least,” she said.

The lecturers’ union has been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement for more than two years. Since their old contract expired in June 2017, lecturers have been working off of their expired contract, which doesn’t set aside annual cost-of-living increases and raises that have been part of their contract in previous years.

Michael Carter, president of UNH’s tenured faculty union, said members were “caught by surprise, but not entirely surprised” at the details of Huddleston’s transition package. While the deal was finalized in 2013, it was not widely disclosed and was not reported until NHPR inquired into the details of Huddleston's salary in recent weeks.

 The university told NHPR that Huddleston will return to UNH’s faculty next year as a tenured professor in the school’s office of Professional Development and Training. Details about his employment have not yet been finalized, but will be provided to NHPR once they’re available, according to a university statement.

As those details are finalized, Carter says the faculty union will keep a close eye on the terms of Huddleston’s return to the faculty. 

“We don’t get involved in individual salary negotiations for academic administrators who are returning to the faculty, but we do certainly keep an eye on whether or not their new salary would be something that would be commensurate with the provost’s rules,” Carter said.

Those rules, which are cited in Huddleston’s contract, state that administrators returning to UNH faculty would make a salary no higher than the highest paid member of a similar academic rank in their department, or a salary equivalent to the position held before becoming an administrator – whichever is higher.

Huddleston came to UNH as president in 2007 and did not hold any pre-administrative roles at the university.