A University System of Maryland leader told state lawmakers he would seek to eliminate bonus pay for future chancellors at a state legislative hearing Thursday.
For James T. Brady, Chairman of the Board of Regents, the decision to talk to lawmakers comes amid a backlash against the choice to award USM Chancellor Robert Caret a $75,000 bonus and a $30,000 raise at a closed meeting in June, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Caret's compensation package includes a $600,000 base salary, housing at a mansion in Pikesville, Maryland, a car with a driver and $53,000 in annual contributions to his retirement fund. The contract also allows for a merit bonus of up to 15 percent of his salary per year if Caret meets performance goals.
Caret is still expected to receive the previously approved $75,000 bonus, as Brady focused on future chancellor contracts. The university system already does not provide bonuses to campus presidents.
The package was designed to be competitive with the level of pay Caret previously received as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts system, Brady said. He acknowledged confusion about the pay arrangement but defended the bonus, saying Caret deserved it.
"In retrospect, the rationale supporting the bonus component could have been better articulated and explained by the board when the contract was made public," Brady said. "I trust that this rationale has been clarified by my testimony today."
Brady pointed out a statewide bus tour that Caret went on to raise USM's profile, as well as his work to create an improved partnership between this university and University of Maryland, Baltimore, as examples demonstrating Caret's worthiness for a bonus in his first year as chancellor.
Caret took over in the summer of 2015 and is responsible for leading the 12-campus, $5.1 billion university system. Caret earned more than $700,000 in total compensation while at UMass, making him the 22nd highest paid chancellor in the nation, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Lawmakers took issue with his bonus at a time when many schools have increased tuitions and students have struggled with loans to afford an education.
"At a time when we are raising tuitions, the questions come to us as to, 'OK, why is the chancellor getting all this increase when we're raising tuitions?'" said Maryland Sen. Nancy King, a Montgomery County Democrat. "It is really hard to justify this to the students."
Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch also disagreed with the pay bump in June, calling it inappropriate as many college students struggle with debt, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Caret defended his bonus to reporters after the hearing.
"Do I feel that after 21 years as a campus or system head that I deserve that? Yes," Caret told The Washington Post. "I don't apologize for that, but I am sensitive to it."
The Board of Regents is expected to vote on Brady's recommendation to eliminate bonus pay in future chancellor contracts at its next meeting Sept. 9.
Brady may have the board vote on making it official policy to immediately disclose any salary changes agreed upon in closed sessions, he said. Currently, USM releases that information only when requested.
"Under our current process . . . this information was made available upon request," Brady said. "Now, we will make it public immediately after the closed session."