A significant item was overlooked in last week's coverage of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees meeting.
After approving pay raises for all campus chancellors for the next fiscal year beginning July 1 -- UAF Chancellor G. David Gearhart was bumped from about $282,000 to $289,000 -- Trustee Sam Hilburn offered an amendment to make a $225,000 deferred compensation payment ANNUALLY to Gearhart. John Tyson seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously. There was no discussion of the item, proposed after an executive session.
Gearhart is the best paid of the UA chancellors. Here's a list of all chancellor pay raises for fiscal 2011 approved last week.
The money is to come from the University of Arkansas Foundation and thus doesn't interfere with the statutory salary cap for the job. It will be set aside for Gearhart's retirement and will not be his to draw until he retires. The sum is immediately vested.
No other chancellor got a deferred compensation boost last week. Gearhart had been in the news as the preferred candidate among a solid majority of the Board of Trustees to succeed Alan Sugg as president of the University of Arkansas System when he retires next year. Talk that Gearhart would remain chancellor at Fayetteville for a time if he took the presidency spurred unhappiness at other campuses, which often compete with Fayetteville for programs, dollars and attention. Ultimately, Gearhart said he hadn't been at Fayetteville long enough to consider a move now and said he wouldn't apply for the presidency. The Board began the process of a national search for a system president last week.
A member of the Board told me over the weekend that Gearhart was an odds-on choice for the presidency, but that several on the Board wanted him to apply for the position along with others, rather than presenting a done deal. An insistence on that put the kibosh on a deal to elevate Gearhart, my source said.
So, maybe for his trouble, the Board decided to show appreciation to Gearhart -- who's been popular in his first year at Fayetteville -- in a most tangible way.
The UA spokesman who provided me details of the deferred comp payment noted, without my asking, that Gearhart is paid less than campus leaders at some other similar insitutions in the SEC. He provided a list of "executive compensation" ranging from $535,000 at the University of South Carolina to $727,000 at Auburn.
Deferred compensation bonuses proved somewhat controversial at the University of Central Arkansas, you might recall. This one was done in public, however (at least one newspaper reporter was present). And the money explicitly was said to come from a private source, not institution funds. That gummed up some of the arrangements with former UCA president Lu Hardin. Financing dealings at UCA in the Hardin era remain under scrutiny by the FBI, sources have told the Times.