Ivy Tech State College trustees last month approved a first-ever employment contract for longtime President Gerald Lamkin, giving him a 9-percent pay raise and relative job security until his intended retirement in mid-2007.
Such deals are increasingly common in higher education, trustees said, and the timing was right for Ivy Tech as the school takes over control of the state's community college system and expands it to all 23 of its campuses.
Formalizing Lamkin's future now-after 21 years in the job-also insulates him from a restructuring of the school's governing board that may result from an overhaul of state government.
All Ivy Tech trustees are appointed by the governor. After Jan. 10, that will be Republican Mitch Daniels, who is taking over after 16 years of Democratic control.
"To some, the timing may look weird because of the election and all," acknowledged Ivy Tech board Vice Chairman A.H. "Hutch" Schumaker. "But it's something we should have had done years ago."
Still, the agreement itself has some distinctly political undertones, said Raymond D. Cotton, a Washington, D.C., attorney who specializes in higher-education compensation.
Case in point: a provision that allows Lamkin to terminate his employment for "good reason," including a change in control of the Ivy Tech board.
"That [type of condition] is not standard, in my experience, in higher education," Cotton said, "but it is used from time to time in highly political situations. They're providing the president with a little bit of job security."
The contract also says Lamkin can quit-and continue to be paid for one year-if his $242,800 salary takes a big hit or if his title or duties change significantly.
Board spokesman Tom Jeffers said the contract simply makes sense.
"It was important for us to get his commitment to provide leadership given the pending transition to the community college system," said Jeffers, who serves on the board of trustees' executive committee. "We feel a duty to make sure we continue to have a steady hand at the helm."
Since 1999, Ivy Tech has collaborated with Vincennes University on the Community College of Indiana, offering two-year programs on 10 campuses throughout the state. In October, Gov. Joe Kernan said Ivy Tech will take over the system and expand it to all campuses next fall.
Jeffers said the Ivy Tech board began discussing a contract for Lamkin in 2002 and started serious work on it this summer. Trustees unanimously approved the deal at their bimonthly meeting Dec. 9.
"Politics didn't enter into it at all," he insisted.
Lamkin, 70, joined Ivy Tech in 1967 and ascended to the presidency in 1983. He declined to comment on the contract or its "good reason" provision.
"The language was created by legal counsel, and both the president and the board agreed with it," college attorney Rich Smikle said in a written statement. "This type of clause is common in a long-term employment agreement."
Cotton disagreed, saying it is unusual for a college to give such control to even its highest-ranking staffer.
"Normally, organizations don't like to put the reins in the hand of an employee and allow them to walk away with severance, which [Lamkin] can do here," he said.
Trustee Schumaker said he wasn't familiar with the passage when asked about it by a reporter. Jeffers said the matter didn't generate much discussion.
"It wasn't a point we labored over," he said. "It's unlikely that there will be a wholesale change in the board. That would be an unusual event, even with a change in administration."
Trustees serve staggered terms, so an immediate overhaul is unlikely. Eventually, though, it may be inevitable. Only three of the 14 board positions expire in June, but another five are up in June 2006.
"I know I serve at the pleasure of the governor," said Jeffers, whose term expires in June. "I don't expect to be reappointed. ... That's just the way the world works and it should. We know that going in."
Daniels spokesman Marc Lotter wouldn't shed any more light on of the fate of the Ivy Tech board.
"The governor-elect's staff is in the process of evaluating all the commissions and boards where the governor can appoint members," he said. "I'm not in a position to comment on a specific one."
Change nevertheless seems to be the order of the day in state government, and if that holds true at Ivy Tech, Lamkin will have an out a full year before he is scheduled to retire.
If he exercises it, that would sabotage the other purpose of the formal agreement-succession planning.
"Given his age, there were questions about when the president was going to retire, normal kinds of questions," Schumaker said. "We needed to know if we were going to have to start looking next month or next year."
The contract calls for Lamkin to retire as president June 30, 2007, then continue working as president emeritus for two years. His compensation will decrease during that time: 70 percent of his final presidential salary the first year and 50 percent the second year. After that, he will stop collecting a paycheck but keep the title.
Lamkin's duties will vary during the two-year transition, but likely will include fund-raising and consulting with his successor, according to the contract.
"Trustees come and trustees go," Schumaker said, "but we need some continuity. It's nothing vastly different. We just wanted to get it written down. This is a lot more professional."
About 70 percent of college leaders have written contracts, according to a 2002 report from the American Council on Education. The group hasn't updated its data, but the numbers were on the rise then and likely are higher now.
"The vast majority of presidents now have written contracts," Cotton said. "Boards are motivated by a desire to retain the president and top staff and get some stability. Individuals are motivated by job security. Everyone gets something out of it."
All the other presidents of public institutions in Indiana already had employment agreements in place. Contracts have become increasingly important as the average tenure of a college or university president has dropped, Cotton said. Leaders of large institutions stay put about five years, and about seven years at smaller colleges.
"You don't see 20-year presidents anymore," he said. "[Ivy Tech trustees] are holding onto that stability and protecting their president from the political winds."