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PAUF Notes: UTPA President Robert Nelsen will give his presidential incentives to UTPA

The University of Texas Regents recently adopted an incentive system for presidents that creates potential conflict between their financial self interest and the welfare of their universities.

UTPA President Robert Nelsen announced that he will donate any incentive award he receives to the university “...because the entire university will have helped earn that bonus, not me personally”.

This is seriously heroic on his part, in a lot of ways. Seriously heroic.

UT-Pan American President Pledges to Give Bonuses Away

by Reeve Hamilton, Texas Tribune

University of Texas-Pan American President Robert Nelsen won’t be participating in the University of Texas System’s new incentive pay plan — at least, he won't directly benefit from the plan.

Nelsen, who assumed the presidency in 2010, told The Texas Tribune that he has made up his mind to take any bonus he earns under the new system and give it to his university in Edinburg. “There’s no question that if I do earn a bonus, it will go the university, because the entire university will have helped earn that bonus, not me personally,” he said.

The UT System Board of Regents approved a new incentive plan for its university presidents and system executive officers at its August meeting, under which a bonus of up to 10 percent of their compensation at the end of the next fiscal year could be contingent on meeting certain benchmarks.

The specific goals for presidents haven't been determined, but they will be specifically tailored to each individual university. They will probably be guided by the goals of UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa's "Framework for Advancing Excellence," a policy outline he unveiled in 2011 that calls for improving graduation rates, increasing philanthropic gifts to the universities expanding the use of technology and boosting research activities. The framework, which was widely lauded when it first came out, also called for incentive pay for executives.

Still, the business-oriented bent of the new compensation model drew some attention. "Not surprisingly, while these plans are more pervasive in industry … in higher education, they are still much more the exception than the rule," said Scott Kelley, the system's executive vice chancellor for business affairs.

Not everyone was thrilled at the proposal's passage. Raymond Cotton, a lawyer based in Washington, D.C., who specializes in higher education, called it "a misapplication of something that works and is used effectively in the for-profit world." While he said higher-education governing boards have successfully imported some ideas from the business world, and that they do have a duty to set the system's priorities, he questioned this particular strategy. "It almost sends the message to the presidents that we don't fully trust you to do your jobs, so we have to add these financial incentives along the way."

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, which formed in 2011 to combat proposed higher-education reforms that some viewed as misguided, issued a statement on the incentive plans cautioning that "great care should always be exercised when making significant changes." It continued, "We look forward to a more thorough understanding of the mechanics, motivations, and likely effects of the proposed incentive plans."

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