System administration has the Midas touch

Now that a subcommittee of the Texas Legislature is looking into the staggering amount of money state-supported universities are spending each year to provide "golden parachutes" for former high-ranking administrators, the University of Houston System has found an inventive new way to funnel exorbitant "severance pay" to departing officials -- they just remain on the payroll.

UH System Chancellor William P. Hobby announced Jan. 5, 1995, that he had accepted the resignations of Senior Vice Chancellor B. Dell Felder and Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Ed Whalen.

At the time, Hobby said the resignations were his idea, but refused to elaborate. He did say the position occupied by Felder would be renamed "vice chancellor for Academic Affairs," but it would remain vacant pending the results of the System administration reorganizational review. He named UH System Controller Linda Bright to fill Whalen's post.

During the ensuing months, The Daily Cougar inquired from time to time as to when a separation package or "golden parachute" plan for Felder and Whalen would be presented to the UH System Board of Regents. In the past, such as in the case of former System Chancellor Alexander Schilt, former UH President James H. Pickering and former UH Provost Henry Trueba, those plans were submitted and the change of classification for those personnel was reported in the Board of Regents' agenda within a month of the resignations.

However, the regents have convened four times -- Feb. 1, Feb. 15, Mar. 12 and April 1 -- since the resignations took effect. But the System has so far failed to officially address the resignations; not even a change in personnel classification has surfaced in four months.

The standard answer from the UH System office, located high in the clouds above downtown Houston, is, "We're in the process of negotiating a package with them."

At this rate, the System won't have to go through the messy process of asking the regents to grant Whalen and Felder "golden parachutes" because the two high-paid former administrators won't have officially "jumped ship." As of April 24, both Felder and Whalen are still receiving the same salaries they were making before their resignations.

Apparently, the System intends to drag its heels and allow Felder and Whalen to remain on the payroll for the year, thus sparing the System and the Board of Regents the embarrassing task of approving another set of luxurious "golden parachutes" at a time when the Texas Legislature is demanding Texas schools spend taxpayers' money judiciously.

It must be nice to get paid to do nothing. It must be especially nice to get paid for doing nothing when your annual paycheck is over $100,000 (Felder's annual salary is $132,639. Whalen's is $127,333).

But what the heck -- this year we're already paying $186,759 to Schilt, $156,046 to Pickering and $140,000 to Trueba for doing nothing. What's an extra couple of hundred grand between friends?

Visit The Daily Cougar