By Greg Allen
The first month of the 2016-17 academic year at Springfield College has seen a slew of fantastic news. U.S. News & World Report has ranked Springfield No. 27 in the first tier of the Best Regional Universities North Category, as well as naming the college a top value school in the region. Springfield was also given an award for its dedication to community service.
However, not all the news has portrayed the college in a positive light. On Thursday Sept. 22, the Office of the President released a statement informing students and faculty that they may see “media coverage about the compensation paid to former Springfield College President Dr. Richard Flynn.”
Indeed, the next day, The Republican and The Boston Globe ran front-page stories about Flynn’s compensation. Flynn, who retired as president in 2013, received more than $4 million as president emeritus in fiscal 2014, according to tax records filed by the college.
“The sum of money was not Flynn’s salary number, but 15 years worth of deferred compensation accumulated during his tenure of 14 years being president,” current Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper said. “Although it’s a large number, it represents 14 years of savings.”
Simply put, it was built into his contract, that upon retirement, Flynn would receive the money that he deferred. The money was set aside for him to later receive.
“It was not money that we could have used to put into the new Learning Commons,” Cooper said. “It was money that was his, that was set aside.”
Flynn became the 12th president of Springfield College in 1999. During his tenure, Springfield made a number of upgrades to the campus, including building a wellness center and student union. The latter building bears his name.
According to Cooper, Flynn was on sabbatical in his last year to help with fundraising, transitioning to the new president, and with some projects that were not finished during his tenure. Although he left the college in 2013, he received his deferred compensation, or payout, in August 2014 at the conclusion of his sabbatical.
According to the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate, an 8-member group headed by Faculty Senate President Julie Smist, “Faculty had no prior knowledge of the former president’s compensation package. The Faculty Senate called a meeting on Monday to discuss the news. Nearly 50 members of the faculty talked with President Cooper to voice concerns which she assured us she will relay to the Board of Trustees. In addition, the Senate is crafting a communication to be shared with the members of the Board when the Board meets here on campus in October. We as faculty take seriously our role in advocating for the responsible use of student tuition dollars and good stewardship of the college’s financial resources.”
Contract structures like Flynn’s, with deferred compensation packages and money for unused vacation time, are typically made for CEOs and other highly positioned employees, according to Cooper. She, however, does not have this plan in her contract, and she said because of that, the college will not again be in this situation.
According to Cooper, reactions from students, faculty, staff and alumni have been mixed.
To many, the information provided by the college was confusing, and some had a difficult time understanding the situation.
Springfield College Professor of Social Sciences Daniel Russell said, “My reaction was that I wanted to know more about it. It could be completely legitimate, and I would be perfectly comfortable with that if I understood it. If it is not justified, I would have great concern.”
Many students on campus are confused by the situation as well. Five students in positions of leadership, such as class presidents and New Student Orientation leaders, were asked to comment for this article. All declined, and three felt they were not educated enough on the topic to provide a comment.
One student willing to speak was Adam Ziewacz, a graduate student who teaches math full time at Central High School. Ziewacz believes that the large sum of money was hard to absorb in an atmosphere of high student tuition.
“I work full time and couldn’t afford one year at Springfield College with my entire salary,” he said. “Most of my friends will be paying back loans until they’re in their 40s or 50s.”
Ziewacz believes that Springfield could exert its leadership in another way when it comes to these financial issues.
“In an era where rising costs of higher education becomes a national issue, why could Springfield College not be an agent of change? Who is to say that our little private college could not change the way this country views higher education? It’s a bold statement, but with the history of this institution, it seems only the next great step for a nationally respected college.”
An editorial printed in The Republican on Sept. 23 that addressed this topic also focused on the school’s virtues.
“Springfield College remains an outstanding institution, one that grew under Flynn and continues to do so under new president Mary-Beth Cooper. It remains an integral part of the educational community and continues to expand its reach and influence within the community,” it states.
The editorial also acknowledged that concerns about the large sum of money are legitimate.
“The payout strikes a sensitive chord with parents and families who are frightened by college costs and debate whether free college education must be considered. They get upset at any sign of largesse that does not directly address quality teacher-student relationships and learning opportunities.”
One thing that seemed pretty clear to everyone was that $4 million is a lot of money.
“Four million dollars is a big deal to Springfield College,” Russell said. “It is 2.5 percent of the total budget, and it could do a lot of things in terms of staff, faculty, student services, scholarships, etc. Four million dollars could go a long way in making the college better.”
Russell questioned how the deferred compensation could accumulate to such a large total. He researched the 990 forms and went through how much money was being deferred each year. The data he found did not convince him that the compensation should have added up to the sum that it did.
For example according to the 990 forms, Flynn’s “Retirement and other deferred compensation” in 2009 was worth $28,710. In 2010, it was worth $18,641. In both 2011 and 2012, it was worth $13,366.
“I donate money to the college,” Russell said. “So is that money going to [Flynn]? If there’s a reason for it, fine. If not, why should I give the college money?”
Cooper said, “I understand people’s surprise, confusion and frustration. We are very concerned about having the college be affordable, trying to keep our tuition low. I understand and appreciate where they’re coming from.”
Another concern with the compensation of former President Flynn is that donations to the college and prospective students will not continue coming into the college at the same rate that they have been.
“It’s not just the $4 million going out the door,” Russell said. “It’s also the stuff that’s not coming in the door.”
Two alums and long-time donors to the college, Carol Smith Taylor ’64 and Scott Taylor ’66 (former administrative staff members for 25 years), sent an email to the Board of Trustees expressing their displeasure with the compensation to Flynn. The email, which was cc’d to The Springfield Student, indicated that the college “should not expect to receive any funds from us in the future.”
Cooper said, “I believe that donors want confidence that money they are giving to the college is going to give scholarships to students, help our athletic teams, better East Campus, etc. It is our job to ensure people that if they give to the college, we will be good stewards to their money. They can believe that 100 percent. I am paying close attention as both a president and a donor.”
Although this news does not portray the college in a positive light, Cooper is focused on moving forward and away from the issue.
“They didn’t hire me to look into the past,” Cooper said. “They hired me to look into the future. I’m not going to spend a great deal of time talking about something that happened two years ago. I’m going to look ahead. Where are we going tomorrow?”