Last year, Timothy Flanagan was hired a president of Illinois State University. In March, following an "incident," Flanagan stepped down after seven months on the job. He got a half million dollars on his way out the door. For what?
Flanagan left in the wake of a bizarre incident in which a groundskeeper working on his house charged Flanagan with yelling obscenties at him assaulting him. Flanagan initially pleaded his innocence, but ended up resigning late last month. The groundskeeper, who was fired after the incident, has now been rehired.
Since we were not on the scene when this weird incident occurred, let's leave aside Flanagan's direct guilt or innocence for the moment. Let us simply say something uncontroversial: his tenure as head of Illinois State University was not a successful one. He did not last a year, and he left mired in controversy. It is safe to say he was not a great benefit to the university. So students are now asking, quite loudly: Why did Timothy Flanagan get a $480,000 payout on his way out the door?
You can't ask Timothy Flanagan, because that fat payout came with an agreement by all parties to not discuss the thing. But the Chicago Tribune did speak to the chairman of the ISU board:
According to Flanagan's contract, he could've been let go by the board without pay if he'd been fired for cause — which in the contract is described as "material acts of dishonesty or disloyalty," lying, conviction of a crime, use of drugs or alcohol abuse, or violation of any board policies or procedures. ISU's board did not feel it had cause to fire Flanagan without resulting in litigation that would've cost more than the settlement, said Michael McCuskey, board chairman. Rather, his resignation was the result of a mutual agreement.
"It didn't work for him, it didn't work for us, and we're moving on," McCuskey said.
McCuskey also told the paper that because the money for Flanagan's payout came from a "contingency fund" that is funded not by tuition or state money but by "a variety of fee payments, including from Burger King, Subway and other franchises that lease space on its campus, as well as parking tickets and fines from late bill payment," that taxpayers and students should not be upset. That is an interesting analysis. It is equally—in fact, if we are not being modest, more—plausible to say that the money from those fees could have been put to a use more beneficial to the ISU community than lining the pockets of a failed outgoing president.
I guess if students can learn anything from this incident, it is that well connected individuals and powerful institutions have the ability to make poor decisions and unjustly enrich themselves, but regular people have the ability to shame the hell out of them for it.