ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — When Sophia Wisniewska, the regional chancellor of the USF campus in St.Petersburg, was forced to resign this month for failing to execute a timely hurricane evacuation of students and then fleeing the hurricane for her own safety, she received what many might consider a golden parachute from USF.
Wisniewska negotiated 20 weeks of severance pay amounting to about $110,000 and roughly an $80,000 a year ongoing salary as a tenured professor — whether or not she actually teaches any classes — until next May when she voluntarily leaves the USF system for good.
As it turns out, Wisniewska’s sweet exit deal is not the first golden parachute USFSP has offered to an errant administrator, and maybe not even the best one.
Former USFSP Regional Vice Chancellor Han Reichgelt was forced to resign two years ago but never stopped getting a paycheck after USF investigators concluded he sexually harassed a faculty member at a bar where the victim stated he had been drinking heavily.
“Was that the liquor talking that night?” we asked Reichgelt.
“That was a social occasion,” he responded.
Under Reichgelt’s resignation settlement — signed by Wisniewska — he simply moved from his vice chancellor position to another job as a tenured professor in the USFSP business school. Reichgelt had to give up his $190,000 annual vice chancellor salary but ended up receiving $152,505 a year plus a $5,000 stipend as a teaching professor. Even with that $33,000 pay cut, Reichgelt remains the 19th highest paid USFSP worker amid nearly 1,000 other employees.
This semester, Reichgelt teaches three online courses that don’t even require him to step into a classroom. And you might even conclude Reichgelt received a kind of bonus for his harassment of the faculty member. As part of the USFSP settlement, taxpayers had to fork out $8,500 to compensate the victim — Reichgelt didn’t have to pay a dime.
Both cases have one thing in common — academic tenure enabled USFSP administrators to leverage their mistakes for either a sweet exit deal or ongoing employment on the taxpayer dime.
Reichgelt insists academic tenure protection was a deal he struck with Wisniewska when he first accepted the regional vice chancellor position in 2014.
“Whether it’s fair or not, I don’t know. You have to ask the whole university community because everybody does it like this,” said Reichgelt.
Interim Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock says academic tenure protection deals are written into Florida’s collective bargaining agreement with university system educators across Florida — even when people are hired as administrators, not for classroom instruction.
“We are following the collective bargaining agreement as we are required to do,” Tadlock said.
Tadlock concedes such protection for public university administrators is not the way higher education business operates in Minnesota where he formerly served as a dean, but it is in Florida and many other states.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Tadlock said. “I think historically, it is typical.”
The reason for tenure, according to Tadlock, is not to protect individuals but to guard free speech and academic freedom on university campuses. But that’s not the way it keeps playing out at USFSP in the case of Reichgelt and Wisniewska.
Unless USF President Judy Genshaft breaks that tradition with the next USFSP regional chancellor, that new hire will probably get the same protection under the teacher union contract. Presumably that means they would receive the same kind of golden parachute or job protection funded by taxpayers if they mess up as administrators.
Tadlock said if he had to advise Genshaft, he’d tell her to follow the practices outlined in the statewide faculty collective bargaining agreement. Does that mean tenure for administrators?
“Most likely,” said Tadlock.
Meanwhile, Reichgelt insists that no matter what happened with the female faculty member that night in the bar, he’s qualified to teach students.
“Yes, I deserve to be here and no one should have any issues with it. I don’t believe anybody, any of my students have had any issues with me,” Reichgelt said.