Board of Trustees approves $167K retirement bonus for Easter

By Maggie Sullivan

President Robert Easter was awarded a $167,000 retirement bonus at his last Board of Trustees meeting Thursday.

Easter’s retirement and bonus comes while the University faces serious financial concerns. At the meeting, Walter Knorr, University vice president and comptroller, reported the University is $1.8 billion in debt. He said the main cause of the debt is capital projects, such refurbishing the State Farm Center.

Additionally, Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed 31.5 percent budget cuts for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1. Rauner cut University funding by 2.25 percent for the current fiscal year and suspended or stopped many University grants, Knorr said. There is a total hold of approximately $18 million on 2015 appropriations from the state, grants included, he said.

Tom Hardy, University spokesperson, justified Easter’s bonus despite budget cuts.

“The incentive-based performance payment that’s made to Easter is part of a contractual arrangement,” Hardy said. “This is a contractual obligation the University has with Easter, just as we have any contractual obligations with any University personnel.”

Hardy said according to Easter’s employment agreement, he was originally eligible for a $200,000 incentive-based performance allocation. However, Easter was only eligible for a maximum bonus of $176,000 because he chose to retire before the end of the current fiscal year.

“The trustees looked at various performance metrics and determined that [Easter] had generally, across the board, very strong performance,” Hardy said. “They decided he should be paid 95 percent of that potential $176,000.”

In additions to resolutions regarding Easter, the Board of Trustees unanimously passed resolutions to name the newest residence hall Wassaja Hall in honor of the University’s first Native American graduate, Carlos Montezuma, and to raise the budget on the Everitt Laboratory renovations from $50 to $55 million.

The board also approved a preliminary operating budget for fiscal year 2016, although state appropriations to the University are undetermined.

Hardy said the University needs to approve an operating budget to legally operate. He said the preliminary budget is typically based on the operations of the current fiscal year.

Once the state appropriations are finalized, the Board of Trustees will approve a final operating budget. The final budget could be approved as early as September 10, at the Board of Trustees meeting in Urbana.

Easter was also awarded the title President Emeritus, and the Trustees Distinguished Service Medallion for his legendary loyalty and service to the University, said Edward McMillan, chair of the Board of Trustees. Past recipients of the award include Stanley O. Ikenberry and Stan Weaver, retired dean of Illinois Senate.

“We’re now very delighted to be able to add your name to that list of people,” McMillan said.

The Chancellor from each of the three University campuses also presented Easter with a farewell gift.

Chancellor Susan Koch of the Springfield campus gave Easter a book entitled “Abraham Lincoln: A Life.” She also thanked him for taking the time to get to know the Springfield and Chicago campuses in the same way he knew the Urbana campus.

Chancellor Michael Amiridis of the Chicago campus named the 2015 Peregrine Falcons Bob and Cheryl in honor of Easter and his wife.

“We hope the falcons will soar over our campus for years to come,” Amiridis said.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise presented Easter with a piece of marble from Mumford Hall, where Easter first began his career at the University.

“Rare is the individual who puts aside his interests for another cause,” said Wise, reading from an inscription on the back of the marble. “That is why we will honor Robert Easter. He will always be remembered for his unique standards of humility, ideal and ethics.”

Easter said despite potential struggles, he sees a bright future ahead for the University, and he is optimistic about Timothy L. Killeen assuming the presidency.

“There’s almost a feeling of relief that the torch will soon be passed to an incredibly able and well-fit successor,” Easter said. “I believe Dr. Killeen’s role is to lead the University of Illinois into a new era.”

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