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Despite Cuts, Kentucky Community College Head Gets Lucrative Deal

Enrollment at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System is down to its lowest level in five years, while tuition revenue and state funding are at eight-year lows.
 
Tuition is going up and spending cuts are well under way. “The colleges, especially over the past six years, have had to tighten their belts both on the personnel and operating expense side,” said KCTCS’ chief finance officer, Ken Walker.
 
One personnel expense that wasn’t tightened, though, is that of KCTCS President Michael McCall.
 
McCall, 66, one of the highest paid community college system administrators in the nation, received total compensation of $641,699 in 2013. It included a $317,962 base salary, a $78,509 bonus and a $90,000 housing allowance. He also receives an automobile allowance of $3,600 per month, or $43,200 per year. All with taxpayers’ and students’ dollars.
 
McCall’s 16-year career at the system’s helm will end with his retirement next January, but he will still get a paycheck. A 16-month-old document obtained by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting shows that he will become president emeritus for one year and draw his final base salary, or $324,321 after a recent 2 percent raise. To earn it, he “shall perform duties as requested by his successor.”

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McCall

Professors who have seen their school budgets pinched and their workloads grow in recent years say the KCTCS board’s generosity with McCall smacks of hypocrisy. 
 
“It’s a sweetheart deal,” said David Cooper, an English professor at Jefferson Community & Technical College and president of the Kentucky Community College Faculty and Staff Alliance union. 
 
“Generally speaking, a new president is not going to want the old president to tell him or her how to run the system,” Cooper said. “I don’t think the taxpayers should be paying him a salary for doing no work at all. They certainly wouldn’t be doing that for a faculty member.”
 
Barbara Ashley, a sociology professor at JCTC’s Southwest campus in Pleasure Ridge Park, was appalled by the emeritus deal. Last year, the 72-campus KCTCS was forced to draw $15.5 million from its net capital. This year, the KCTCS Board of Regents cut the system’s day-to-day spending by 9.4 percent.
 
“If this system were flush -- and community colleges have always been underfunded -- it might make a little more sense,” she said. “Yet we’re facing state budget cuts. His situation doesn’t seem to be moving in tandem with that.”
 
Through a spokeswoman, McCall declined to be interviewed.

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Data from KCTCS. Graphic by Brendan McCarthy, 

Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, kycir.org

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t keep tabs on presidents emeriti, but there are enough of them to pack a large lecture hall. Kentucky has spawned its share. Like Lee Todd Jr. of the University of Kentucky, Doug Whitlock of Eastern Kentucky University and James Votruba and Leon Boothe of Northern Kentucky University. Morehead State University has three. The private University of Pikeville has two.

Unlike McCall, those nine aren’t paid for their post-presidential standing. Todd, for example, has the emeritus title for life but receives no stipend for it. The title, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton, “is an honor, not an occupation.” Todd is currently a tenured professor of engineering and receives a salary of about $170,000. Doug Whitlock retired last year from EKU and was named president emeritus. EKU doesn’t pay him for it. Why not? “We just don’t,” said EKU spokesman Mark Witt.
 
KCTCS Board Chairman P.G. Peeples, president and CEO of the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County, said the emeritus contract will help ease the transition in leadership.
 
“There’s a lot of wisdom and knowledge there that you want to capitalize on going forward,” he said. “That’s traditional among institutions of higher education, to keep their leaders on in some emeritus status.”
 
Asked why the board is paying McCall $324,321 to perform duties “as requested by his successor” instead of specific functions, Peeples said, “That has to be drilled down more and be more specific about the roles, and we’re not there yet. There will definitely be more detail to that.”
 
But the McCall employment contract containing the president emeritus clause is already in force. Peeples and McCall signed it on Dec. 7, 2012, and it took effect the following Jan. 1. 
 
Still, Peeples insisted that “specifics” about McCall’s duties as president emeritus will be added. 
 
“We’re all comfortable with that contract,” he said.
 
Michael Ginsberg wasn’t. A KCTCS trustee since 2009, Ginsberg resigned in March. He said he was frustrated with what he called the board’s “idol worship” of McCall and its ready embrace of his proposals, including an ambitious $198 million, 16-project construction program.
 
Ginsberg said he objected to the president emeritus deal, to no avail.
 
“If we’re paying him full salary, we ought to know what he’s doing,” said Ginsberg, an English professor at Jefferson Community & Technical College’s downtown Louisville campus. “That’s a lot of money, and it’s a lot of money when we don’t have money to replace faculty members who are retiring.”
 
Ginsberg said the English department in Jefferson County is a prime example. “We’ve had half a dozen faculty retire in the past three or four years, and none of them have been replaced.”

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KCTCS’ reliance on part-time help has reached the point where close to two thirds of all classes are taught by instructors, not professors. Since instructors only teach, Ginsberg said, professors must absorb more duties expected of full-timers, such as advising students and serving on committees.
 
In 2007, a survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education listed McCall as the highest-paid community college president in the nation. The survey hasn’t been updated, but McCall comes out way ahead of counterparts in other states who run combined community-technical college systems.
 
Scott Ralls, whose North Carolina system has almost three times Kentucky’s enrollment, received total compensation of $327,561. Tom Snyder, whose Ivy Tech system in Indiana is slightly bigger than KCTCS, made $307,134. 
 
McCall is the third highest-paid college administrator in Kentucky. His $641,699 in total pay last year was less than UK President Eli Capilouto’s $747,225 and University of Louisville President James Ramsey’s $667,565. 
 
McCall also makes out big on the housing front.
 
University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto lives in a 142-year-old, 2 ½-story Italianate villa on the UK campus. Morehead State University President Wayne Andrews lives in a three-story 1929 house listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
 
Both houses are university-owned. And when they call it quits, both men will have to turn over the house keys. Any increase in real estate value goes to the universities. 
 
Instead of a house, KCTCS gives McCall an annual housing allowance: $90,000 per year. McCall has received $90,000 in each of the last six years, or a total of $540,000, according to KCTCS. Yet McCall and his wife paid off the mortgage on their Versailles house three years ago, local property records show. They bought the 4,754-square-foot house in 2005 for $439,000 and are now trying to sell it. It’s listed for $475,000.

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McCall's house in Versailles/James McNair, kycir.org

Whatever amount they get, the money stays in their pockets.

 
Meanwhile, KCTCS is trying to shore up its revenue. Last week, the state Council on Postsecondary Education gave the greenlight to a KCTCS tuition increase of up to 4 percent over two years.
 
To Cooper, the KCTCS faculty union president, the negative trends in the system’s finances make McCall’s deal stand out even more.
 
“It’s amazing that a poor state like Kentucky can afford to pay that kind of salary,” Cooper said. 
 
Correction: This story was updated to reflect that enrollment is down to its lowest level in five years. It was not the fifth consecutive decline.
 
Reporter James McNair can be reached at [email protected] and (502) 815-6543.
 
 
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This article was produced by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, a new nonprofit newsroom from Louisville Public Media. You can read more at kycir.org.