We recently discussed the scandals surrounding Jerry Falwell Jr. from his use of a personal yacht of a Nascar mogul to the sordid allegations stemming from an affair by his wife, Becki. After resigning from his position at Liberty University, Falwell quoted Martin Luther King: “The quote that keeps going through my mind this morning is Martin Luther King Jr: ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I’m free at last.’” It may be a moment of freedom for Falwell but it will hardly be free for Liberty University which promised “full compensation” that could reportedly reach $10.5 million.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Falwell is looking at the windfall severance package including $2.5 million for two years of his salary plus a one-time payment of roughly $8 million. That latter amount is based on a contractual clause giving Falwell full pay if he resigned with restricted responsibilities.
Falwell insists “I didn’t break any rules—I get my compensation.” That would depend on the conditions of his contract. Many employment contracts have provisions concerning actions that bring controversy or ridicule upon the organization or business. However, even discounting the sex scandal, Falwell is accused of a sweetheart deal with a Nascar mogul who received lucrative contracts from Liberty University while giving the Falwell family use of his luxury yacht. Given Falwell’s treatment of the university as a personal fiefdom, it would not be surprising if his contract is devoid of such limits or conditions.
I have been a long critic of the contracts for university presidents, which can reach obscene levels of compensation and benefits.
The answer to the question above is that it is indeed possible because of the historic abuse of such contracts. As I said in 2004, university presidents often handpick board members and then gradually increase their benefits and compensation. There is little scrutiny of such packages and part of my criticism of the recent effort to disband the National Rifle Association is the selective focus by prosecutors.
If a multi-million compensation package is approved by the Board, every member of the board of trustees should resign in disgrace. They have stood by as Falwell careened from one scandal to another. This record shows that his interests were treated as paramount rather than those of the institution, its faculty, its staff, or its students. The only positive aspect of this scandal would be if the Falwell contract led to a broader debate over the salaries and contracts afforded to academic presidents and those heading nonprofit organizations across the country.