New College of Florida trustees approve $1.3 million/year contract for controversial president Richard Corcoran

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Richard Corcoran
Richard Corcoran speaks to press after addressing the Tiger Bay Club in West Tampa // Chris Young /WMNF News, 9/15/23

By Ryan Dailey ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — New College of Florida President Richard Corcoran is set to earn up to $1.3 million per year in salary and benefits under a five-year contract approved Friday.

The deal also steers hundreds of thousands of dollars in deferred compensation and retention payments to Corcoran, who served as interim president prior to being tapped earlier this month by New College’s Board of Trustees to lead the school on a permanent basis.

The board on Friday signed off on Corcoran’s employment agreement, which will need final approval from the state university system’s Board of Governors.

Corcoran’s base salary will continue to be $699,000 under the contract that is slated to run for five years but is backdated to February when Corcoran was named interim president.

Ron Christaldi, who serves as vice chairman of the board of trustees and who led contract negotiations with Corcoran, on Friday defended the employment agreement amid questions about the size of the compensation package for the head of the small liberal arts school with roughly 800 students.

“I know there’s been a lot of public comment about the size of our institution, about the state of our institution. And I will submit to you all that I did not focus on where we are today, I focused on where our expectations are for our president and where we need to be, where we want to be,” said of his negotiations.

Christaldi noted that “there’s been public comment” equating New College’s size to that of a high school.

“With due respect to all the great high schools around the country, we’re not a high school. We are the honors program of the state university system,” he added.

Corcoran’s contract includes a provision that could see him earn annual “incentive compensation” of up to $200,000 if he meets certain performance goals that are laid out in the document. For example, the contract lists goals of increasing student enrollment to 1,200 by the end of his fifth year; increasing campus security; adding faculty; and making various improvements to campus, including to student housing.

The contract also would provide Corcoran with $104,850 each year in what’s known as deferred compensation. That money would be paid to Corcoran near the end of each year of his employment.

The package also includes an “accrued retention payment” of $200,000 for the first three years that would be paid out in a lump sum of $600,000 in February 2026, if he remains on the job. Corcoran would earn $100,000 per year in such payments for the final two years of the contract.

Corcoran’s compensation also is set to include yearly housing and vehicle allowances of $84,000 and $12,000 respectively, as well as a one-time payment of $18,000 in “transition expenses.”

Christaldi said the retention payment and other aspects of the contract are intended to provide stability at the school.

“Turnover, as any of us in the business world know and the government world know … is extremely costly. And given the fragile state of this university at this time, turnover at the present level could not only be costly, it could bring an end to this institution,” Christaldi said.

Corcoran’s time as interim president was part of sweeping changes to the school spearheaded by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appointed a slate of conservative allies to the New College trustees board in January. As one of the board’s early actions, the panel elected to oust former president Patricia Okker and installed Corcoran, a former speaker of the Florida House and state education commissioner, as her replacement.

With the support of the revamped board, Corcoran has been instrumental in ushering changes to the school that included the creation of athletic teams and the shuttering of an office that dealt with diversity, equity and inclusion issues. The decisions have drawn pushback and, in some cases, on-campus protests by students and other opponents of the school’s remaking.

Trustees Amy Reid and Grace Keenan, the board’s faculty and student representatives, on Friday voted against Corcoran’s contract and questioned some aspects of the agreement.

Keenan took issue with what she described as the contract being posted online for public review less than 24 hours before Friday’s meeting.

“My understanding is, the public can only make public comments if they submit at least 48 hours beforehand. So does that mean that the public was not able to see this and comment on it before we received it?” Keenan asked.

Christaldi said that “the moment we got the sign-on from the BOG (Board of Governors), we posted it, sent it out.”

“There was no intention to delay everything. We just set the timing in a way that made it a little bit difficult to get it out a week in advance,” he said.

The board’s general counsel Bill Galvano, who is a Republican former Senate president, said that the process of posting the contract publicly was compliant with legal requirements.

Reid and Keenan also pushed to strike a part of the contract that requires Corcoran to be appointed as a New College faculty member, with Reid saying that Corcoran does not have experience as a teacher. Christaldi countered that Corcoran would be qualified to teach classes on politics or government.

Corcoran said he would be “fine with the motion passing,” but the board voted to keep that provision in the contract.

“It is a great honor to serve you all, and I look forward to years ahead,” Corcoran told the board.

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