There is mounting interest, especially in Lawrence, over that half-million dollar dose of heart balm for KU’s departed chancellor, Bernadette Gray-Little.
Although Gray-Little left the office last June, she continues to receive the $510,000 annual salary and other compensation that she was paid in 2017, the final year of her eight years in the Mt. Oread mansion.
Gray-Little announced her resignation in September, 2016. At that time, the Regents had quietly agreed to keep her on the university payroll at full salary and benefits for another year after she left. For a monthly $42,500, she is a “consultant to the new chancellor,” Douglas Girod, and serves as a special advisor to “ease the transition for a new leader…” according to a letter written by Regents president and CEO Blake Flanders.
“This role will consist of helping the new Chancellor, at her or his request, become acquainted with the University’s unique programs, its several campuses, and other areas,” Flanders wrote. The agreement shows “our appreciation for the unfailing leadership and service” that Gray-Little had provided the university while chancellor from August 2009 to June 2017.
But it’s doubtful that Girod needs much help. He had been executive vice chancellor of the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., since 2013 and had joined the Medical Center faculty in 1994. He’s not new to KU or to its layout, and the Medical Center has been fertile ground for grooming university chancellors, among them Franklin Murphy (1951- 60) and Clarke Wescoe (1960-69).
Just what Gray-Little does for her pay isn’t clear. The Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s community colleges and universities, determines her salary. It has been vague about her extended role in return for salary, financed 55 percent with public funds, the rest from a university endowment. The arrangement and its rationale have prompted an arched eye among legislators who determine university budgets.
And yet it’s all quite odd. KU is no stranger to largesse. It can raise fortunes from a deep-pocketed platoon of the faithful. Its athletic department is especially fortunate; in the past 15 years nearly $1 billion, most of it donated, has been spent for upgrades, remodeling, expansions and new structures for the school’s basketball and football programs. Not to mention the coaches’ pay, the endorsements, the gold-plated freebies from wealthy fans and alums.
Only recently the school announced plans for a $300 million expansion and upgrade at the stadium for a struggling football team. The biology department should be so fortunate.
Nonetheless, for a place like KU, a $500,000 thank-you to a retired chancellor seems like so much loose change.
‒ JOHN MARSHALL