May 24, 2018
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In wake of controversy surrounding former chief, UMaine System confident in pay-raise review

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — The chancellor of the University of Maine System expressed confidence Friday in the system’s compensation policies in the wake of former UMaine President Robert Kennedy’s resignation as chief of public higher education in Connecticut.

Kennedy, president of the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education, resigned Friday morning amid controversy about his improper authorization of 21 pay raises totaling $262,206. He had held his position for a little more than a year.

A similar controversy earlier this year about pay increases at Maine’s public universities prompted some policy changes after a review by University of Maine System Chancellor James Page. University of Southern Maine President Selma Botman faced questions about 44 raises, totaling $242,000, during a difficult fiscal year.

“That [review] was very comprehensive,” Page said. “We do have good checks and balances in place.”

In Connecticut, Michael Meotti, executive vice president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, received a $49,000 raise, which represented a 27 percent increase. Meotti announced earlier this week that he would forfeit the raise and return to his annual salary of $183,339.

Elaine Clark, vice president of facilities, received the second-largest raise — a jump from $150,000 to $175,000. Clark, who formerly served as executive director of facilities, real estate and planning at the University of Maine, followed Kennedy by taking a new post with the Connecticut Board of Regents in March.

The 44 USM employees who had raises approved by Botman saw their salaries boosted between 5 percent and 41 percent under the Salaried Employees Compensation and Classification Program, which allows the employees to have their positions reviewed to determine if their work warrants higher pay.

Page announced on March 22, just days after he took office, that he would freeze discretionary pay increases pending a system review of its compensation policies.

Botman stepped down from the presidency in July to take a position in the system office. The move followed a no-confidence vote by USM faculty in May.

The University of Maine System gave its employees more than $7 million in raises between 2006 and 2012 during a period of repeated budget cuts and fiscal uncertainty, according to data the system released in April. But the system’s leaders have said the raises resulted from of shifting roles, with many employees taking on additional work.

Of that $7 million, the system’s flagship campus gave $2.74 million in pay increases during the past seven years.

Meanwhile, some faculty members, who were continuing to work without a contract, voiced frustration that other system employees were receiving raises.

Kennedy was president at UMaine from 2005 to 2011.

There are 351 fewer full-time equivalent positions in the system than there were in 2007, according to Tracey Bigney, the system’s chief human resources officer. That means other employees have had to fill some of those gaps by moving to different positions or taking on more job duties.

Page said Friday afternoon during a telephone interview that he didn’t think it would be appropriate to comment on the situation in Connecticut, but that he was confident the policy now in place in the University of Maine System would encourage fair raises while ensuring they are properly vetted.

Page took over as chancellor in March, about 10 months after Kennedy resigned from the UMaine presidency to take the job in Connecticut.

The review conducted by Page and system staff found there was a need to improve consistency in payroll coding to distinguish between categories of increases — for example, to avoid confusion about whether a person received a pay increase because of a promotion versus an increased workload in the employee’s current job.

The system also decided it should set limits to how much salaries could increase by at one time, and that “a heightened level of scrutiny” should be applied when an employee has received a discretionary increase in the past three years. The system also said that university presidents should keep the bigger picture in mind when awarding raises.

“While recognizing and rewarding employee initiative and performance, presidents must enforce a culture of accountability for salary increases,” the recommendations state.

The compensation review program policy is likely to be revisited and reassessed in the future, according to the chancellor.

“We’ll want to periodically take a look back and make sure we’ve got [the policies] where we want them to be,” Page said.

Kennedy could not be reached for comment Friday.

Michelle Hood, chairwoman of the University of Maine System board of trustees, was traveling on Friday and unavailable for comment. She did not respond to an email message.

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