Severance $600,000

Tompkins not left wanting upon departure

The Daily Mining Gazette
March 31, 2004

HOUGHTON — When the Michigan Tech University Board of Control fired President Curt Tompkins last Friday, they left him far from empty handed.

Board members told The Daily Mining Gazette that Tompkins’ contract, which was revised in 1999, could pay him more than $600,000 in salary, sabbatical and deferred compensation.

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“It was something already decided when we did the contract with him,” said board member Claude Verbal, of Fountain Hills, Ariz. “There was no surprises as far as myself or any other board members.”

Tompkins was could not be reached for comment this morning.

Under the revised pact, Tompkins will draw his salary and benefits for a year after his contract has been terminated by the board. Last year, Tompkins’ earned $202,150, reduced from $210,940 because of budget reductions.

Tompkins, as a tenured member of Tech’s faculty, also had the option of taking a year off for a sabbatical and receive a year’s salary.

But because he didn’t take time off during his 12-year tenure as president, he is now entitled to the pay. Under the contract, Tompkins also remains a faculty member at Tech although it’s unclear if he intends to teach.

In addition, a 1999 university press release states that a deferred compensation fund established by the contract would increase $45,000 each year from contributions from the Michigan Tech Fund.

Based on the press release, the fund could now contain as much as $210,000.
Board Chairman David Brule of Iron Mountain said the board wasn’t in a position to default on its agreement with Tompkins.

“We have to honor it and it’s something we obviously want to do,” Brule said.

Brule confirmed a statement made by Tompkins last week that he asked the president on March 16 to send a letter seeking a leadership transition.

“The Board of Control has the responsibility to understand when it’s time to move on and collectively I think we felt it was time to move on,” Brule said.

Board Vice President Rodger Kershner of Bloomfield Hills said the compensation package included in the 1999 contract was an enticement for Tompkins to stay on at the university for at least another five years.

The board had renewed Tompkins’ contract for three more years, through June 2007.

“It’s not unreasonable I don’t think in light of what’s typically necessary to attract a chief executive of any large organization,” Kershner said. “He did all the university asked him to earn that.”

If Tompkins had resigned, he wouldn’t be eligible for most of those benefits. Tompkins reiterated Friday that he didn’t resign.

Tompkins in the past has said that he had no plans to quit, including at the time of a December faculty and staff no-confidence vote which he lost.

Kershner said the loss of compensation may have been why Tompkins stayed.

“It could have been that he was standing up for principle and telling the world that he thought he was doing a good job as president and was going to demonstrate that conviction until he was forced to go or he could have been thinking about the sacrifice he was going to make by resigning, or some combination,” Kershner said.

Brule said Tompkins’ statements at the time of the no-confidence vote were likely a reaction to the fact that he wasn’t going to walk away amid criticism.

“I think he was reacting, which I don’t blame him for,” he said.

Verbal said that it would have been in Tompkins’ best financial interests to have the board fire him than resign.

“It was time for him to move on and it’s the best way for it to happen, I think,” Verbal said.

Brule pointed out that the deferred compensation funding comes from the Michigan Tech Fund from off-budget funds.

A Tech press release from July 1999 notes that Tompkins pledged to return the money to the Leadership Excellence fund as a charitable remainder trust.

Although the contract mentions that Tompkins would have to serve through five years of his contract, an attorney said the former president can receive the funds because of the three-year contract extension, according to Brule.

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