President Paul W. Ferguson resigned on Jan. 25 with no public explanation, and the Board of Trustees appointed Provost Terry King as interim president.
The trustees, meeting in Indianapolis, approved Ferguson’s request for a two-month sabbatical leave, after which his term will end, according to an email from the university. His term ended on March 25.
Rick Hall, chairman of the board, announced Ferguson’s departure following the meeting.
“While the Board and Dr. Ferguson are disappointed that this relationship has ended, we wish Dr. Ferguson and his wife, Grace, well in their future endeavors,” Hall said.
See seven more top news stories from the 2015-16 school year.
The announcement that President Paul W. Ferguson will resign three and a half years before his contract is up came as a surprise and prompted calls for the university to explain what happened and be more open about the departure.
“The speculation begins: ‘Why?’ ‘What happened?’” said Dom Caristi, a professor in the Department of Telecommunications. “This is very sudden, and nobody expected it. Nobody knows anything at this point.”
Caristi and others said the university needs to explain what is happening.
“I think that whatever the Board of Trustees knows, they really need to release it right away,” he said. “Because the rumors are going to start, and the best way to eliminate rumors is to put the facts out there.”
The decision cuts short a presidential term that had been contracted to last until June 30, 2019 — if not longer. Both the Board of Trustees and Ferguson, 61 when he came to Ball State, expected he would stay even longer, the two said last year.
During his two-month leave, Ferguson was paid two months of his $450,000 yearly salary — about $75,000, paid out on normally scheduled paydays, according to his severance contract.The university will also pay Ferguson for his unused vacation days — $21,635 — and any other wages earned through March 25.
As long as he doesn’t revoke his agreement, Ferguson will also receive a $450,000 severance payment, as well as around $15,000 worth of premiums for a year of health insurance, to be paid out over the course of 12 months. However, the contract also details Ferguson’s “duty to mitigate,” saying that he must make “reasonable and diligent” efforts to gain a senior employment position in higher education or other employment in line with his expertise. If Ferguson gets hired somewhere else, the severance payment will be reduced.
If Ferguson does not get another position in the next twelve months, he will be paid a total of about $561,400. Ferguson and the board agree not to criticize each other, or as the agreement says, neither party can “make or publish any derogatory, disparaging, false or damaging written or oral statements or remarks ... “ Ferguson also can’t make a statement regarding the reason for his resignation that is inconsistent with the university’s public statement.
Part of the terms of the contract, perhaps, is the reason why Bracken can’t say anything on the terms Ferguson left on.
Furthermore, both parties have signed on to remain confidential. They can’t reveal the conditions or discussions that led up to the severance agreement. We may never know why Ferguson resigned.
WHY DID HE LEAVE?
A section of the agreement, (14.2), says the university can terminate the agreement “without cause.”
In this situation, the notice from the board would go into effect 60 days later, and the president may have to take a sabbatical in the meantime. (Sound familiar?)
If that happens, the Board has to pay the president one year of the president’s annual base salary, paid out over 12 months. Which, as previously noted, is what is happening per the severance agreement.
Also in the severance agreement is that Ferguson has to try to find other employment. This is in the original contract as well. This makes it seem unlikely that the resignation (or termination without cause) are due to health reasons, because the president is obligated to look for work.
‘NO SCANDAL HERE’
At a Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 29 — five days after Ferguson resigned — about a dozen students participated in a peaceful sit-in.
Trustee chairman Rick Hall allowed senior political science major Carli Hendershot — who hosted the sit-in — to speak for the students at the meeting about transparency issues with Ferguson’s departure.
While she said she was happy about being able to speak for herself and for other students who want to know the details, she didn’t feel like any progress was made toward transparency.
“We just didn’t exactly get the answers we were looking for,” she said.
Hall opened the meeting by declaring there is “no scandal, no other shoe is going to drop, no financial crisis, no emergency going to be revealed next week.”
FACULTY CALL FOR TRANSPARENCY
Students aren’t the only ones demanding transparency regarding former President Paul W. Ferguson’s resignation in January.
The Faculty Council proposed a resolution at its meeting Feb. 4, calling on the Board of Trustees to provide more transparency.
The immediate goal, as stated by the resolution, is “disclosure about the instant case,” but the draft also calls for a change in how trustees are chosen. The resolution suggests mirroring the way Indiana University’s board works — with alumni electing one-third of the members.
Currently the governor appoints all nine trustees.
Dom Caristi, a telecommunications professor, wrote the proposed resolution.Caristi ended his most recent term on the council in April. He said he speaks for himself, and not the council, regarding this issue.
He said he does not think his request for more transparency is unreasonable at all.
“I thought it was very wrong for the public not to know why the expenditure is occurring,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of frustration for a lot of people. The Board of Trustees doesn’t answer to faculty, we don’t have any authority over them. This is a chance to have our opinion heard.”
The draft also asks for the board to not sign a contract with a prospective president that includes nondisclosure agreements when taxpayer dollars are being used.
At the trustees meeting on April 15, the board approved an edited adaptation of the resolution that was created by leaders from Faculty Council, University Council, Campus Council and the Board of Trustees.
“Ball State University shall function collaboratively and transparently welcoming the expression of opinions, encouraging the collective development by campus of the best ideas and maintaining open discussion and communication of policy decisions,” the resolution says. “All with the purpose of supporting the campus community united in its mission to propel the university into its second century of success.”
A NEW START FOR FERGUSON
Ferguson applied for a position at a new university, according to an Arkansas Democrat Gazette article published on April 13.
He’s on the list of applicants for chancellor at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, along with 16 others.
The search firm, Greenwood/Asher and Associates, is still in the process of cutting down the applicant list so they can start background checks.
This news came almost three months after Ferguson was unexpectedly terminated without cause from his position as president of Ball State.