LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State University is continuing to pay outgoing President Barbara Couture her full salary through the end of the year even though she has already started working for a new employer, which will not start paying her until next year.
Couture also will have continued use of the official president’s home and a car through Dec. 31, when her NMSU employment officially ends. At that time, she receives a golden parachute amounting to $453,093.
NMSU regents remained mum Tuesday regarding any of the details, including why they gave her the golden parachute even though she officially resigned to take a job in Washington, D.C.
New Mexico State University President Barbara Couture’s contract and the settlement agreement with the university is online at ABQjournal.com below
“The reality of it is there’s only so much I can share with you related to the specifics,” said Board of Regents Chairman Mike Cheney, the only one of five regents to respond to a list of emailed questions about Couture’s pay-out.
“The overall settlement included that number, and it was felt by the president and the Board of Regents that that was a fair number.”
Cheney said the funds to cover Couture’s pay-out will come from the university’s budget by postponing the filling of an undisclosed number of administrative staff positions.
“I felt like it was appropriate to take this course of action,” Cheney said of funding Couture’s lump sum payment by leaving some university jobs vacant over the next year.
“It’s an expense that should be covered out of the budget. We have a way to cover this thing through cost savings, rather than going out and asking for any assistance (from donors).”
Other regents – vice chairman Isaac Pino, secretary Christopher Dulany, Javier Gonzales and Kari Mitchell – did not respond to email or phone calls asking why Couture, whose annual salary is $392,700, will be paid the rough equivalent of 14 months of salary after leaving NMSU’s employment for another job. Gonzales referred questions to Cheney.
On Monday, less than a week after Couture took a voluntary leave of absence, the regents approved a “settlement agreement and release of liability” under which she is entitled to her regular salary, through the end of the year, about $98,000.
The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities on Tuesday confirmed that Couture has been appointed to the post of senior adviser, a position for which she will not be paid through the end of 2012.
The APLU did not disclose what compensation Couture will get starting in 2013, but said she will assist its staff “with a major study of student financial aid policy.”
“Barbara’s experience and background on these important issues and experience at several universities makes her very well qualified to work on this project,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “I have known Barbara for several years and I am pleased that she has agreed to come to APLU.”
The four-page settlement agreement with NMSU contains language in which both sides, the university and Couture, agree not to sue each other for any claims or causes which “have been or could be asserted,” and it contains a section in which both sides agree not to criticize each other.
“Both the Board and the President agree not to discuss or disparage the parties’ business relationship arising from employment as university president and to refrain from any conduct or communication which impugns the reputation of the other, publicly or privately, verbally or in writing, at any time,” the settlement says.
Cheney said Monday that the regents would not discuss “the specifics behind this decision” to accept Couture’s resignation less than three years after she was hired. Regents cited the confidentiality of personnel matters in declining to discuss in detail the end of Couture’s employment.
Asked if regents took steps to dissuade Couture from leaving the presidency, Cheney said, “All I can tell you is we appreciate the things she contributed and we did reach agreement and that’s a matter of record now.”
He added: “Our objective is to create an opportunity for a smooth transition going forward. Let’s put this relationship behind us and let’s move forward.”
Big severance payments, or golden parachutes, for public employees who resign or are effectively fired for cause have riled up New Mexicans in the past.
Louis Caldera was paid a $713,000 settlement for resigning as president of the University of New Mexico in 2003. Former state Sen. Manny Aragon received $200,000 in 2006 when he resigned as president of New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M.
A House bill aimed at prohibiting a state employer from paying compensation of any sort to an employee who resigns or is fired for cause died in committee in 2009.
Former NMSU regent Del Archuleta said Tuesday that he could not comment specifically on Couture’s departure because he is unfamiliar with the circumstances. But, Archuleta said, in general, it is not unusual for two sides to negotiate a settlement leading to an amicable separation when a contract is involved and a protracted dispute with rising legal costs could be in the offing.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal