may only offer them a one-year deal, a move
almost certain to backfire.
“If you can’t come to a consensus, I tell colleges
to just do the search over again,” says Pulliams.
“You’ve got to keep an open mind until the end of
the process to find the right fit.”
Attorney Raymond Cotton has helped assess
presidential contracts for 400 colleges and uni-
versities. Some boards Cotton consults take a
hardline stance on contracts, to the point where
they prefer to eschew negotiations entirely.
Hardball may have worked a decade ago when
the job of college president wasn’t as multifaceted, but today’s boards should expect a prolonged series of discussions over executive-level
pay and benefits.
“I tell boards to think of a president as a part-
ner, even if the board has the legal right to hire
and fire,” says Cotton, who is based in Washington,
D.C. “After you make the hire, you’ll be working
with that person as a respected partner, so contract
talks can’t be ‘my way or the highway.’”
Modern pay packages may contain perks like
short- and long-term disability coverage or nursing
home insurance, Cotton says.
“You might have tuition assistance for kids on
their way to college,” he says. “The psychological
impact that has on the employee is enormous. It
says that we as a board care about you as a person.”
WHAT ABOUT RENEGOTIATIONS?
Annual reviews and performance evaluations
are tools used to document an employee’s
strengths and identify areas for future growth.
College leadership positions are no different,
though not every executive contract insists on
yearly evaluations, relates Pulliams.
“I got caught up in this in one of my presiden-cies,” he says. “Everything is going fine and then
I hear board members complaining that I didn’t
communicate with them enough. The president is
often the last to know about some of these things.
The more communication you have, the better
things will go.”
Annual assessments may also open the window
for easier contract renegotiation talks. Renegotiations
usually occur before the third year of a typical
three-year contract, barring a huge boost in fund-
raising or other extraordinary performance metrics
over the course of the previous year.
Demonstrative community support is a good
sign for a fruitful renegotiation, but mining opinions from a board chair offers a better consensus,
“Eighty to 90 percent of renegotiations are suc-
cessful, though there are still politics involved,”
he says. “A good president is a good politician in
terms of where they stand in the community and
Last fall, Jon Connolly, president of Sussex
County Community College in New Jersey, received
a new, five-year contract that included a $12,000
annual salary bump. Connolly signed his new
contract before the fourth year of his original five-
“I was told by mentors that I needed to begin
negotiations sooner if I wanted to get my contract
renewed,” Connolly says. “They said if you wait
until year four to start the process, it’s too late.”
When determining his worth during discus-
sions, Connolly went by “feel,” as he’s been doing
almost since the start of his career.
“I don’t wish to be paid a salary that disrespects
me as a professional, and I’ve only had that experi-
ence once,” he says. “What I care about is whether
what I’m delivering is worth what I’m being paid.”
Connolly understands there are no assurances
that any higher education job will last forever.
Even so, a stress-free contract negotiation tends
to bode well for a long-term relationship between
institution and president.
“I like to believe the board feels I treated them
fairly, and that they see me as a really good president,” Connolly says. “If people feel like they can
trust each other, moving forward they’re motivated
to perform at exceptional levels.”
Douglas J. Guth is an education writer based in Ohio.
“A good president is a good politician in terms of where
they stand in the community and the college.”
– PRESTON PULLIAMS, president and owner, Gold Hill Associates