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IOWA CITY — Just weeks before starting her tenure as 22nd University of Iowa president, Barbara Wilson signed a formal employment contract and deferred compensation plan that includes some notable differences from those of her predecessor, Bruce Harreld.
Wilson’s contract, for example, adds a new requirement under her “duties as president” to keep the Board of Regents — primarily through its executive director and president — “fully informed of significant issues affecting the university.”
That includes “matters related to the performance of key personnel, budget and finances, changes in enrollment, litigation and the reputation of the institution,” according to Wilson’s contract, which she signed June 23.
It also includes a new section that was not in Harreld’s contract, titled, “Work product.” That section states that “all correspondence, papers, documents, reports, files, films, work products, and all copies or derivatives thereof received or prepared by Wilson in the course of performing, or as an incident to, the duties and responsibilities hereunder shall immediately, upon such receipt or preparation, become the exclusive property of the university.”
All those materials or documents should be given to or left with the university “upon termination of this agreement.”
Wilson, who starts as UI president Thursday, is to act as the “chief executive officer of the university” while also performing customary university president duties, according to her five-year contract.
Harreld — a former business executive with IBM, Boston Market Co. and Kraft General Foods — was not charged to function as CEO, according to his contract.
Wilson, who’s been serving as executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs over the University of Illinois System since 2016, was appointed UI president April 30 at an annual base pay of $600,000 after an expeditious national search to replace Harreld, who was making $590,000.
Although Harreld in 2019 agreed to remain UI president through 2023 — forgoing his $1 million deferred compensation payout in exchange for $2.33 million at the end of his extended contract — Harreld surprised the campus in October by announcing early his plans to retire.
At the time, Harreld said he wanted to give regents the space to find a good replacement amid COVID-19 and planned to stay on to help transition a new president — avoiding interim leadership and potentially keeping him on staff beyond 2023.
Harreld told a reporter that regents had raised the idea of keeping him on as employee at the board level through 2023, which would have allowed him to collect his deferred compensation.
But Harreld in May announced he would leave UI immediately after graduation May 16 at the request of board President Mike Richards — requiring an interim UI president and negating Harreld’s ability to collect his deferred compensation.
Harreld in a parting statement said he “always” intended to donate that money back to the university — although he never said so publicly — and hoped the board would use the money to relocate the four UI cultural houses to a central location near the Iowa Memorial Union.
In addition to differences in the contracts for Wilson and Harreld, the board wrote in changes to Wilson’s deferred compensation agreement — which will contribute $400,000 annually for a total payout of $2 million in 2026.
Unlike Harreld’s deferred compensation plan, Wilson’s stipulates the plan “does not constitute, nor may it be deemed to constitute, an employment contract between the president and the board or the university.”
“Nothing contained in this plan gives or may be deemed to give the president the right to be retained in the service of the board or the university or to interfere with the right of the board to discharge her in accordance with the terms of her employment agreement,” according to Wilson’s plan.
Wilson’s agreement — again, unlike Harreld’s deal — specifically states that nothing in the contract “gives or may be construed to give the president any right, title, interest or claim in or to any specific asset, fund, reserve, account or property of any kind whatsoever owned by the university or in which it may have any right, title or interest now or in the future.”
Her agreement notes nothing in the plan will give her or anyone else “legal or equitable right against the board or the university, except as provided under this plan.”
Wilson’s contract includes new language about deferred compensation assets placed into a trust continuing to be “part of the general funds or assets of the university.” It states “neither the president nor any other person claiming a right under this plan shall have any interest in, or right or title to, the trust.”
It includes a new section making clear the university will withhold taxes from its distribution.
And, unlike Harreld’s agreement, Wilson’s specifically states neither she nor any designated beneficiary can “grant, assign, transfer, pledge or otherwise assign, in whole or in part … the president’s benefit under this plan or the assets of the trust.”
“Any such attempted grant, transfer, pledge or assignment will be null and void and without legal effect,” according to Wilson’s plan. “Further, the president’s benefit payable at any time under this plan shall not be subject in any manner to the debts or liabilities of any person entitled to the president’s benefit, and neither the board nor the university shall be required to make any payments toward such debts or liabilities.”
Wilson’s plan, unlike Harreld’s, includes a section specifically defining the terms “separation from service,” “disability” and “cause” — as in separation from service with or without “cause.”
“‘Cause’ means the president’s willful failure to substantially perform her duties and responsibilities to the board or the university or violation of a material board or university policy,” according to Wilson’s plan, which includes as examples of “cause”:
- Fraud, embezzlement, dishonesty, or other willful misconduct
- “Material unauthorized use or disclosure of any proprietary information of the board or the university or any other party to whom the president owes an obligation of nondisclosure as a result of her employment by the board and the university.”
Neither the university nor the Board of Regents has shared details about why Harreld left his position earlier than originally planned.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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