Deeply criticized for her furtive one-day retirement last August, which resulted in a $90,000 lump sum payment for unused vacation and sick leave, Commissioner of Higher Education Sally Clausen is stepping down. It was a wise decision.
As she noted in her resignation letter, dated June 8, Clausen’s retire-rehire debacle has been “a constant distraction to the important work of higher education and to the Board of Regents.” Her resignation is a sad ending to a career in education that has spanned more than three decades, including stints as president of the UL System, president of Southeastern Louisiana University and secretary of education for the state.
“There are still important issues in this session that need attention, not the least of which is final passage of Senator [Ben] Nevers’ bill to strengthen the Regents, the GRAD Act, Performance Based Funding and higher education’s budget,” Clausen continues. “My hope is that in some small way, this decision will bring a sharper focus to these important issues.”
For reasons still not clear, Clausen kept the decision to take advantage of the state’s often-abused retire-rehire program, designed to retain quality teachers, from the 16-member Board of Regents. The governing board had hired her a year earlier for the $425,000 job, $377,000 annual salary plus a $12,000 car allowance and $36,000 for housing. At that time, she became the state’s sixth commissioner of higher education.
Clausen made headlines and drew praise in April when she requested that her salary be cut in half, from $377,000 to $199,000 — what she called a show of solidarity with her employees in a time of deep budget cuts. She also said she would forego the housing and car allowances. Still keeping the retirement under wraps, she told The Times-Picayune at the time that she was unsure whether she would continue beyond the legislative session, citing family obligations that had made her contemplate retirement.
Contemplate? She’d already done it.
Clausen is helping her divorced daughter in Houston care for a 4-year-old, special-needs child who has been diagnosed with a rare illness, the T-P reported. How easy it would have been, even then, to just come clean about the retirement.
Apparently, a handful of people did know about the retirement, but Clausen should never have kept the board in the dark; board members publicly expressed their disappointment. Let’s hope today’s retirement announcement is directly connected to the board’s May 26 executive session, out of which emerged new personnel policies but no comment on Clausen. Her resignation is effective July 1.