The state university system will no longer award bonuses to the system chancellor or campus presidents, a policy change announced Thursday following criticism of a $75,000 bonus awarded this year to Chancellor Robert Caret.
Caret, who took over leadership of the 12-campus University System of Maryland last summer, was granted the bonus and a $30,000 raise during a closed-door meeting of the Board of Regents in Cambridge in June. The raise and bonus were added to his base salary of $600,000.
James Brady, the board's chairman, told state lawmakers during a Thursday hearing in Annapolis that Caret's contract would be restructured to comply with the new policy. None of the contracts for the campus presidents include bonuses. Brady said it was possible the chancellor's base salary would be increased to make up for the lost bonus money.
Caret said he understands some of the questions about his compensation but also said he has earned it.
"Do I feel after 21 years as a campus or system head that I deserve that? Yes," Caret said in an interview. "Do I think I deliver wherever I've been? Yes. So I don't apologize for it."
A pair of General Assembly budget subcommittees held the hearing in response to Caret's bonus and raise. Lawmakers questioned how the university system could grant such generous increases to its top leader while students face growing tuition bills. The system raised in-state tuition 2 percent this year.
"It is really hard to justify this to the students," said state Sen. Nancy King, a Montgomery County Democrat.
Del. Marc Korman, also a Montgomery County Democrat, questioned whether the optional bonuses and automatic annual 5 percent raises in Caret's contract were a way to avoid "sticker shock" over his total compensation.
While Brady said Caret wasn't guaranteed to get the bonuses — he was eligible for 15 percent and got 12.5 percent — Korman questioned whether the regents planned to grant the bonuses all along, making that money "really a part of the base pay."
Brady said Caret received the bonus for a strong first year on the job. He said the chancellor went on a bus tour sponsored by the State Employees Credit Union that stopped at state university campuses to raise the system's profile, facilitated the transition of three new campus presidents and helped negotiate an enhanced partnership between the University of Maryland, College Park and University of Maryland, Baltimore during the legislative session.
"We as regents believe he did an excellent job," Brady said.
Del. Adrienne Jones pointed out, however, that Caret missed a pair of budget hearings during this year's General Assembly session. Caret instead attended a meeting for the University System of Maryland's private foundation in West Palm Beach, Fla. Caret said the foundation meeting had been scheduled before the budget hearings.
Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, said Caret's absence from the hearings was "unsettling," and she elicited from him a promise to attend all of the system's budget hearings next year.
In addition to his salary, raises and bonuses, he receives a car with a driver, a mansion in Pikesville and $53,000 in annual contributions to an insurance annuity for retirement.
Caret said running the university system involves complex legal and financial decisions.
"I'm not patting myself on the back, but I have to make decisions in a day that someone, if they didn't know what they are doing, could take a year to figure out what to do," Caret said. "I've been around a long time with a lot of big campuses and a lot of big systems. So it is what it is."
After being questioned by committee members, Caret dismissed a rumor that he asked campus presidents to buy him golf club memberships. "That unequivocally did not occur," Caret told lawmakers.
Caret has a membership at the private Center Club in Baltimore, a perk that previous chancellors also enjoyed. The membership is paid for by the university system's foundation.
Before taking over as chancellor of the University System of Maryland, Caret was president of the University of Massachusetts System from 2011 to 2015. Prior to that, he was Towson University's president.
In addition to eliminating bonuses, the Board of Regents said it will publicly announce future decisions made about contracts for the chancellor and campus presidents. Previously, the regents only divulged that information upon request.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who was a vocal critic of Caret's bonus and raise, said in a statement that he supports getting rid of bonuses for the chancellor and campus presidents.
"With so many Marylanders struggling to pay tuition and living paycheck-to-paycheck, leaders across state government should remember the challenges of average Marylanders and make decisions accordingly," said Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.