When New College of Florida trustees selected Richard Corcoran to lead the school on a temporary basis earlier this year, the former Republican state house speaker’s contract elicited sticker shock among some students and alumni.
As interim president, Corcoran’s annual compensation of over $1 million was more than double that of his predecessor, with benefits and a performance bonus factored in. He became the second-highest-paid public school president in Florida while leading the system’s smallest school.
At a Friday meeting, the board of trustees approved a permanent contract for Corcoran that could pay out more than $6.3 million over five years, including performance and retention bonuses. That’s a pay bump averaging up to $300,000 a year through February 2028, mostly in new incentives and deferred compensation.
Corcoran has led the Sarasota school as interim president through a rocky eight months in an effort to steer the campus toward a “classical” education, under the direction of six trustees appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The changes — which include the dismissal of the school’s diversity and inclusion office and dissolution of the gender studies department — have been seen by many faculty, students and alumni as a “hostile takeover” of the historically left-leaning campus.
After a search for a permanent president, the trustees gave Corcoran the job on Oct. 3.
New College trustee Ron Christaldi, who led negotiations, said Friday that Corcoran’s interim contract served as a starting point. Much in the new agreement remains constant from his interim pay. He’ll still earn a base salary of $699,000, with a housing and car bonus worth a combined $96,000 per year.
Some new items raised concerns from one expert who reviewed Corcoran’s contract.
Corcoran’s maximum annual performance bonus nearly doubled to $200,000. That’s the third-highest performance bonus in Florida’s public university system, according to Judith Wilde, a research professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
Corcoran will be paid an additional $104,850 in deferred compensation. It’s a benefit typical of university presidents, according to the consulting firm Mercer, which was hired by the board to consult on the new president’s pay.
Deferred compensation is usually accrued over the lifespan of the contract and is paid out in a lump sum after the contract ends. It acts as an incentive for presidents to see out the term of their contract, Wilde said. It’s also a way to protect income from being taxed while the president is earning a high salary, she added.
That’s not how Corcoran’s contract works. Instead of paying out after years of service, his deferred compensation is paid annually at the end of each calendar year. That defeats most of the retention incentive and tax benefit, Wilde said.
Corcoran will also receive $600,000, paid out after his third year on the job, and another $200,000 at the end of his fifth year.
In total, Wilde estimates the contract is worth approximately $1.3 million per year if Corcoran serves all five years. That’s second only to University of Florida president Ben Sasse, whose contract is worth about $1.36 million annually, including benefits and bonuses.
With state law capping what universities can pay presidents out of their operating funds, the New College Foundation will cover just over $1 million, on average, of the annual cost of Corcoran’s contract.
Christaldi told the trustees at Friday’s meeting that the contract represents “not what we pay an individual, but how we achieve a goal.”
The school has seen three presidents in as many years, and the lack of stability has hurt the school, he said. The contract incentivizes Corcoran to see out his term while outlining performance expectations.
Those goals include increasing enrollment to 1,200 and, by 2028, achieving an 85% “retention rate,” which measures how many students return for their second year. Corcoran also will be expected to achieve improvements to campus facilities, support the school’s new sports teams and increase fundraising.
The criteria are intentionally “broad and categorical,” Christaldi said, adding that the board can make their concrete expectations clear year to year. The first performance bonus pays out in February 2024, leaving little time for trustees to formulate exact criteria.
Trustee Matthew Spalding, who led the presidential search committee, put Corcoran’s performance bonus in more blunt terms: “If he doesn’t raise the money, he’s not going to receive it,” he said.
Trustees received the contract 23 hours before the meeting, well after the deadline for public comment. The contract still requires approval from the Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s public university system.
Ian Hodgson is an education data reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, working in partnership with Open Campus.
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