GW offers six-figure buyout to dozens of business school faculty

Media Credit: Sophie McTear | Design Editor

GW is asking dozens of business school professors to cash out.

Faculty who have taught at the GW School of Business since 1990 have until Tuesday to decide whether to take a six-figure buyout. The business school is the fourth school in five years trying to convince tenured faculty to retire early as officials look to boost GW’s profile with younger, more research-minded professors.

About 15 percent of eligible faculty in the engineering school and Columbian College of Arts and Sciences took the deals in 2009 and 2010, University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said. Last year, faculty in the public health school were also offered buyout deals, but Csellar declined to provide how many accepted.

The buyouts will help GW free up money as it prepares for a hiring blitz, adding between 50 and 100 professors to align with its decade-long strategic plan.

Faculty who are eligible for buyouts in the business school have a base salary of at least $118,500, according to a buyout offer that was obtained by The Hatchet. GW is offering those faculty four options, which range from an academic year of paid research to a payment that could top $278,000, according to the documents.

A business professor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was offered a buyout, said he would not take the deal, and said he had spoken to two other professors in the business school who also did not plan to accept.

“It’s a really small offer. They’re not going to get people to take it unless the people are thinking of retiring anyway,” said the business professor, who has worked at GW for more than two decades.

Another professor in the business school said about 30 professors in the school were offered buyouts, though he had not been offered the deal.

Cashing out across the University
Csellar declined to say how many faculty were offered the deals in the business school or if any have already accepted.

Tenured faculty will earn about $2 million on average over their time at GW and are promised top job security, sometimes making it difficult to free up faculty positions.

“This type of program enables a school to develop new faculty recruiting plans and provides the flexibility to hire new faculty in areas of strategic value to the school and the University, and to do so in an orderly fashion,” Csellar said.

Csellar said there are no plans to offer buyouts in other schools.

Charles Garris, an engineering professor and the chair of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, said buyouts can help maintain a mix of ages and be part of an overall goal to change direction in a school by bringing in new faculty.

“Maybe they would like to develop new areas, but right now there are faculty in other areas the school does not want to emphasize. So by offering a buyout, they can eliminate in certain areas and hire in new areas,” Garris said.

Garris said buyouts often don’t save the University much money because most of the professors he has seen accept the packages “intended to retire anyway.” Over his more than three decades at GW, Garris has been offered the deals twice but turned both down.

“I’m not sure from an economic point of view it’s that good,” Garris said. “Some of our best faculty may say, ‘If they’re trying to induce me to leave, I’ll leave – I have all these options,’ and then they’ll go somewhere else. In that sense, it’s not really a benefit for the University.”

Plagued by ‘poor teaching and deficient scholarship’
Schools will often use buyouts to move departments forward, but must balance that momentum with maintaining key faculty, said Noel Radomski, the director and associate researcher for the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education think tank.

“They’ve got to be careful that it’s targeted and [decide] how they respond to those who would agree to do a buyout. You can’t just live for the short term,” Radomski said.

Before former business school Dean Doug Guthrie was fired last year, he had prioritized improving the quality of teaching in the school and also made it more difficult for professors to earn tenure.

In a budget proposal obtained by The Hatchet, which Guthrie wrote when he first came to GW in 2010, he asked for an additional $9.8 million for new senior faculty hires and $4.7 million to help recruit new faculty to existing positions between 2011 and 2016. Guthrie said the school was plagued by “poor teaching and deficient scholarship.”

“GW School of Business has failed to push itself on quality,” Guthrie’s report read. “Some departments publish in inferior-quality academic journals and maintain a lower tenure standard. This neither advances the school’s aspiration to rank among the top business schools nor supports the central administration’s goal to excel as a research university.”

That failure hurt efforts “to establish new partnerships, bring in new donors, attract distinguished new professors and retain our most talented faculty,” he wrote.

Dean Linda Livingstone came to campus in August and will oversee how the school fills the future gaps left by the buyouts, though she did not make the decision to offer them. The deals came from the top down – from Provost Steven Lerman’s office, according to the buyout documents.

Bringing in young blood
Buyouts can help bring in younger faculty to posts previously locked up in tenure. Since engineering professors left the school with a buyout in 2009, the school has hired about 40 new faculty, most of them top assistant and associate professors from research institutions such as Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At the business school, Guthrie called for more attention on junior-level faculty, who he said typically “wield the least influence in the school.”

“During times of change, junior faculty members can serve as powerful allies and advocates. We must be conscientious about reaching out and including these professors, who not only may have stronger research-focused values but who also up a larger proportion of the faculty,” he wrote.

Valerie Conley, the director of the Center for Higher Education at Ohio University, said buyouts encourage some turnover among faculty, though they can be challenging to do effectively.

“You can’t just say to someone, ‘Oh, I want you to retire.’ It’s important that those programs are designed in a way that won’t result in [having] the people you don’t want to retire leave and the people you do want to retire stay,” Conley said.

Retired law professor Ira Lupu negotiated a buyout in 2012 that landed him on the University’s list of highest-paid employees, with a severance package of about $523,000, according to tax filings.

Former economics professor Robert Trost was one of two economics professors that he said accepted buyouts in CCAS after 2010. When he accepted the deal, he had spent more than three decades at GW and walked away with a payment of 1.5 times his base salary.

He said GW gave him about two years to plan before he left, which allowed him to find another job. He now works at the Pentagon for a defense company and does consulting work with the Department of Defense.

“I was reasonably sure I’d get another full-time job and I had time to plan – these were all the key,” said Trost, who left when he was 66 years old. “It’s perfect for me. It was a magical thing that everything fell in place.”

Ellie Smith contributed reporting.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.