Listen to this article

Getting hired to be a university president is great. Getting fired isn’t so bad either.

Down goes another university president in Illinois, the fourth such casualty since 2015.

All of them — including Thomas Calhoun Jr. of Chicago State, Randy Dunn of Southern Illinois University, Doug Baker of Northern Illinois University, Robert Breuder of College of DuPage — received golden parachutes on their way out the door.

The latest casualty is Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas, who submitted a shotgun resignation June 30.

WIU has a lot of problems, and Thomas apparently had to make tough decisions that alienated various university constituencies.

But he’s walking away — in a manner of speaking — with a pocketful of tin.

Get this — he will be on leave from WIU for two years at his full annual pay of $270,528 plus benefits.

When he returns, he’ll teach two classes a year (one per semester) at a salary of far above faculty salaries — “either 75 percent of the fiscal year 2021 salary paid to his successor university president but not less than $300,000,” according to the contract he negotiated with trustees.

Further, he’ll be allowed to teach two classes a year at that generous salary for as long as he wishes as well as pursue outside employment at any salary he can negotiate.

Some WIU officials dispute the notion that Thomas’ professor salary will be a minimum of $300,000, claiming the contract language is not clearly written.

But no judge — at least not one who is sober — will have a hard time divining the meaning of “not less than $300,000.” It clearly means not less than $300,000, and pity the university lawyer who sincerely tries to argue otherwise.

This kind of nonsense outrages the taxpayers who have to foot the bill. Further irritating is that our legislators — supposedly — addressed the issue of golden parachutes by passing legislation — the Government Severance Pay Act — that limits payouts to 20 weeks of an employee’s salary and requires schools to deny payouts to employees fired for misconduct.

Thomas, of course, wasn’t fired for misconduct. Nonetheless, WIU officials said the new statute doesn’t apply to Thomas because he was not fired — yeah, right — and remains a tenured member of the faculty.

State Sen. Tom Cullerton, a leading sponsor of legislation supposedly limiting the buyouts, told The Chicago Tribune WIU’s action violates the “spirit of the law.” He complained WIU “found some type of loophole that allows them to skirt the law.”

Ignore Cullerton’s reference to the “spirit of the law.” The spirit of a law means nothing if it’s not consistent with the language in the statute.

If Cullerton’s law doesn’t apply, it could be because it was drafted so sloppily by our bill-passing geniuses in Springfield that it doesn’t cover circumstances like that at WIU. If not that, it could be because legislators promised more than they could deliver when they touted this legislation as a cure-all for outrageous golden parachutes granted to failed administrators.

Whatever the situation, taxpayers are paying for ineptitude, whether it’s at WIU or in Springfield. It appears they have no defense for poor hiring decisions at the highest administrative levels of our state universities.

News-Gazette