Thursday’s editorial stands behind the recent decision to award CCU President David DeCenzo a hefty retirement bonus:
Coastal Carolina University trustees were right late last month to promise president David DeCenzo a $1 million retirement package. Simply put, he’s showed that he’s worth it. In the long run, it could even prove to be a money saver for the school.
DeCenzo took the helm of Coastal Carolina University as the school struggled through one of the bleakest periods of its young life. Lax accounting procedures and troubling spending decisions by the previous administration had created a crisis of confidence in the community in mid-2007. Criticism came in from legislators, investigations were launched by the solicitor’s office and the FBI, and the school’s vice president of finance was fired. Amid all this, the newly installed president set out on the difficult task of restoring public confidence in the school and rebuilding its reputation.
As he wrote in a column published in The Sun News in the fall of that year, “our administration takes responsibility for realigning resources and staff to uphold the public trust.”
Five years later, DeCenzo has been unquestionably successful in his goals. The school once again enjoys a reputation for quality education and quality leadership. All too rare among S.C. colleges these days, it also managed to hold its tuition steady this past year, a feat that should be evidence of its commitment to financial frugality. Gone are the days of spending without accountability.
Not just anyone could have accomplished such change so quickly. And so it’s no surprise that DeCenzo’s success has earned him admirers from elsewhere who would be happy to lure the talented gentleman away from the Grand Strand.
“The board was certainly aware that I was getting some phone calls,” DeCenzo said on Tuesday. With what he said were larger schools from outside South Carolina dangling attractive offers, the board of trustees acted to ensure that DeCenzo’s skills would stay local.
It’s important to note two items about DeCenzo’s new retirement package: First, it complements a compensation package that, while it may seem generous to many, is actually below the average for public college presidents. The school’s executive vice president, Eddie Dyer, estimated Tuesday that DeCenzo was being underpaid about 15 percent compared with peer institutions. The Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual survey of presidential salaries put the median pay in 2011 at $420,000, considerably more than DeCenzo’s $307,000 annual compensation, though that includes much larger schools. Among similar size schools, it appears that DeCenzo is indeed making less than many of his peers, although it varies considerably by institution. That difference doubtless made competing offers more attractive than they otherwise might have been.
Second, the $1 million package does not become available to DeCenzo until July 1, 2021. If DeCenzo leaves for another school, steps down for any other reason or is fired before that date, he receives none of the money. In other words, the board has given DeCenzo has a very large incentive to stick around for the next nine years, even at a lower salary than his peers. As salaries at other schools creep higher over the next decade, DeCenzo’s long-term contract (which includes no salary increases) will start to look even more like the smart deal it was.
Granted, it is a lot of money going to one man. Do we wish that DeCenzo would be willing to work for even less money or agree to stay in our area even without such a reward dangling in the future? Of course. But it would be naive to expect a talented professional with in-demand skills not to seek to be suitably compensated for those proven abilities.
And if he were to leave, it would be reasonable to expect that his replacement would expect more than the same figure that DeCenzo began at in 2007. Offering this future annuity rather than a current salary increase is a good way to both reward DeCenzo and ensure those talents will remain in our community for the long term, and the university’s trustees should be commended for their shrewd decision.