URBANA — Amid talk of continued budget pressures and state financial problems, University of Illinois trustees said Thursday a $90,000 one-time performance bonus for President Bob Easter is more than justified.
Easter did not seek the additional compensation but earned it by achieving goals set by the board, keeping costs down and restoring faculty trust, trustees said.
And they said the board has to prepare for the point when Easter retires for good and they have to find a new president in a competitive market.
Easter said Thursday he is unlikely to serve beyond 2015, when his contract expires.
"There's a need for long-term leadership in this position. My horizon doesn't last for 10 years in this type of role," he said, following the board's meeting Thursday in Urbana.
Trustees approved the bonus as part of a new performance-based incentive program, moving the university away from retention bonuses that reward administrators for "sticking around," as Chairman Chris Kennedy put it.
"I think it's really important to bring integrity to the process of compensating public employees. In the past universities and other institutions have rewarded people simply for sticking around. This ties the president's compensation to performance for the first time."
Easter's base salary has been $450,000 since he was appointed in March 2012 to replace Michael Hogan, who earned $651,000 annually before resigning under fire. Easter insisted that his pay not be higher than that of Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who earned $500,000 at the time. trustees said. His salary was also the same as that of former UI President B. Joseph White, who stepped down in 2009, and interim President Stanley Ikenberry.
Easter received a 2.75 percent raise, the average raise for all employees on campus this academic year, bringing his base pay up to $462,375. The bonus raises his 2013-14 compensation to $552,375, which ranks in the bottom half of public Big Ten university presidents, behind Ohio State, Rutgers, Minnesota, Michigan and Penn State, said UI spokesman Tom Hardy.
The board set performance-based goals and targets for Easter in July, including a potential bonus of up to $100,000, and later rated his progress toward achieving those goals using a quantitative analysis and a subjective review, Kennedy said.
Trustees concluded that 90 percent of the goals were met, prompting them to award the president $90,000. The money is to be paid within 30 days.
"It means that there's great faith in Bob from the board, and really from the entire academic community," Kennedy said. "From Bob's point of view, I think it should be considered as a form of applause, but it's really grounded in performance and achievement."
Easter has been involved in pension discussions with Springfield legislators, called for an overview of administrative units, and is overseeing a review and possible restructuring of the university's $1.2 billion health enterprise.
Other goals included increasing university participation by businesses owned by minorities, females and people with disabilities, and building relationships with community colleges throughout the state.
"The reality is the university needs to continue to move forward on a number of different fronts," Kennedy said.
"We're confident that we've got the right leadership to do that. There are goals that are unfulfilled, but when you're creating new knowledge there always will be."
The board has drawn up a draft of Easter's goals for the coming year, which will be finalized in November, he said.
The combination of a salary and an "at-risk benefit" is good for the university and the individual because it includes tangible goals, said Trustee Ed McMillan, a former CEO who chairs the board's budget committee.
"Bob's been very adamant that he is happy with his compensation," he said, but the board it was appropriate to recognize Easter's accomplishments. He said Easter would be "at the top of the class" in any peer group of university presidents "for what he's done and the respect he has both here and throughout higher education."
He cited Easter's good relationship with faculty, who were often at odds with Hogan; his oversight of the many administrative reviews; and his impact on the UI's dealings in Springfield and Washington.
"He's been a great stabilizing factor. He works tremendously with people. We're lucky to have him," agreed Trustee Timothy Koritz.
Easter said he was comfortable with performance-based reviews, which were used during his faculty days.
Professor Roy Campbell, chair of the Urbana-Champaign Senate, said Easter is a humble leader and the bonus is "well-deserved."
"I think the board needed to show some recognition on behalf of the university that he's doing a great job," he said.
The board's goal is to bring his compensation up to a level that will be competitive for the next presidential search, officials said. The average salary for public university presidents in 2011-12 was about $440,000, with top earners above $1 million, according to a survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education.