Suffolk University extends president’s contract

ABOVE THE REST David Sargent, Suffolk president, was named second most lavishly paid private college president in the country. ABOVE THE REST
David Sargent, Suffolk president, was named second most lavishly paid private college president in the country.
By Tracy Jan
Globe Staff / November 7, 2009

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Two days after critics assailed its president’s outlandish compensation, Suffolk University extended the contract of David Sargent until 2013 Wednesday, in a deal that will pay him between $700,000 and $800,000 a year.

Nicholas Macaronis, chairman of Suffolk’s board of trustees, told the Globe yesterday that the 33-member board, with the exception of two dissenters and two who abstained, voted to keep Sargent at the helm in order to allow the board ample time to search for a new president.

“We don’t want to be pushed too quickly to decide on someone,’’ Macaronis said. “This will give us time to do it right.’’

Sargent, 78, is expected to retire in July 2013, Macaronis said. His present five-year contract expires in July 2011.

“It would be my feeling that this would be his last contract,’’ Macaronis said. “I would be very surprised if there would be any extension beyond that.’’

A Suffolk spokesman said Sargent, who is in his 20th year as president of the Beacon Hill university, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

The contract was extended at an awkward time for Suffolk, given the outcry that followed Monday’s release of a national survey naming Sargent as the second most lavishly paid private college president in the country. He made $1.5 million in 2007-08, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. The national median pay for college presidents was $358,746.

In last year’s poll, Sargent ranked number one, with a compensation package totaling $2.8 million in 2006-07. Suffolk University officials said more than half a million of Sargent’s salary was reported twice, even though he only received it once.

Although his compensation would be significantly lower under the extended contract, it tops the $693,739 Harvard President Drew Faust made in 2007-08.

Critics say Sargent’s pay package is still excessive, especially in light of the school’s financial troubles. Next week, it will turn to the state’s Health and Educational Facilities Authority to issue $110 million in tax-exempt bonds to restructure debt and solidify finances.

“They just used the full faith and credit of the Commonwealth in their refinancing to get out of their debts, and now with a nonprofit with financial difficulties to be paying a president that amount is troubling, from a legislator’s perspective,’’ said state Representative John Quinn, a Suffolk Law graduate.

But board members say that Sargent deserves every penny of his hefty pay package, given his longevity and energy in transforming Suffolk from a little-known commuter school to a university with campuses in Madrid and Senegal.

“This was an extension of our vote of confidence,’’ Macaronis said. “This man has devoted his entire life to this school and has brought this school up to the reputation it deserves and enjoys at this time. . . . I hope to the day he leaves this planet that he will somehow be associated in some manner with Suffolk.’’

Sargent, a Suffolk Law graduate, served as law school dean for 17 years before the board appointed him president in 1989.

Until his most recent contract, which started in 2006, Sargent never asked for a raise or took vacation or sabbatical leave, Macaronis said. Unlike many college presidents, he is not provided housing.

For the final two years of his contract, Sargent’s compensation will be the same as in 2011, about $700,000 if he is not given a bonus and nearly $800,000 if the board grants a bonus, said Macaronis.

The compensation would include a basic salary of about $500,000, deferred compensation of $159,000, and fringe benefits, including car and parking, worth around $40,000, he said. “No more signing bonus. No more sabbatical. No more of the stuff he originally got in 2006. He’ll be far from making headlines then.’’

Tracy Jan can be reached at