Ohio University President Duane Nellis offered a top administrator a $95,000 retention bonus in June to secure their services through 2022 as the university lays off hundreds of employees and projects a budget deficit of more than $200 million in the coming years.

Nico Karagosian, vice president for university advancement and president and CEO of The Ohio University Foundation, the university’s fundraising and philanthropy arm, will be awarded the bonus in June 2022 on the condition that he remains in his role, according to a copy of his amended contract obtained by The Athens NEWS. He is among the highest paid employees at the university, earning a base salary of more than $307,000.

Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said in a statement that Nellis in June eliminated an annual $30,000 bonus outlined in Karagosian’s contract in favor of a one-time $95,000 retention bonus.

Karagosian previously received a $30,000 bonus each year at the discretion of Nellis based on the “achievement of objectives agreed upon with the President,” according to a previous version of his contract.

In 2018, when he joined the university, Karagosian earned a prorated bonus of $7,500 because he hadn’t been employed with OU for the full year, and in 2019 he received the full $30,000. He did not get a bonus in 2020.

“Nico has proven himself to be a tremendous asset to the University. Under his leadership, Ohio University has exceeded our fundraising goals, and Nico has been instrumental in cultivating several multi-million dollar transformational gifts to the institution from our incredible supporters including $49.9 million in new gifts and commitments this last fiscal year,” Nellis said in a statement.

”He has also streamlined University Advancement’s staffing and restructured endowment fees to better support operational costs while increasing scholarships. Maximizing private support not only helps the University but greatly benefits the students we serve, and it is essential that we recruit and retain the best possible talent for this role.”{/span}

The Ohio University Board of Trustees never publicly voted to award the bonus. Leatherwood, however, previously maintained that the president has sole authority to authorize compensation to members of their executive cabinet.

Karagosian this year agreed to take a 10 percent reduction to his pay because of the added financial strains put onto the university by the coronavirus pandemic. As of July 1, he now makes a salary of $276,790, according to the most recent version of his contract. His salary will return to the base rate in July 2021.

His salary, according to the university, places near the 50th percentile in the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA) survey of salaries of those in Karagosian’s position at peer universities.

OU Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Deborah Shaffer, who serves on the OU Foundation alongside Karagosian as Treasurer and CFO, quietly accepted a $100,000 retention bonus in July granted to her in March 2017 through an amendment to her contract with the signature of former OU Interim President David Descutner.

Descutner and the university have publicly feuded over the details surrounding the administration of the bonus, obscuring the chain of command in its bestowal.

Shaffer, was offered in 2019 an additional $100,000 retention bonus by Nellis on the condition that she remain in her role until at least June 2023. Neither of her bonuses were publicly voted on by the Board of Trustees.

Nellis and Janelle Coleman, president of the Board of Trustees, have adamantly and repeatedly defended both Shaffer’s job performance and her bonuses, which they say were appropriate given market competition in higher education.

“Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Deb Shaffer is a critical member of my leadership team,” Nellis previously said in a statement. “In renewing her contract, it was important to recognize Deb’s accomplishments during her tenure while maintaining continuity and institutional knowledge that is truly invaluable. Additionally, offering Deb appropriate compensation in a competitive market was the right thing to do.”

Shaffer, who is also among the highest paid university employees, earns a base salary of $327,726 before the $100,000 bonus, which the university said also places her near the 50th percentile in the CUPA survey of salaries of those in Shaffer’s position at peer universities.

She agreed to take a 10 percent reduction to her pay this year. As of July 1, she now makes a salary of $294,953 on top of the $100,000 bonus, according to the most recent version of her contract. Her salary will return to the base rate in July 2021.

In May, both OU President Duane Nellis and OU Provost Dr. Elizabeth Sayrs announced that they plan to take a 15 percent salary reduction. Sayrs and Nellis also voluntarily waived their bonuses in this past fiscal year.

Nellis’ salary before the reduction was about $489,000, plus a $71,000 bonus that was granted to him in 2019 by the Board of Trustees. His new salary after the pay cut will be about $416,000, his contract says. Sayrs’ base salary is nearly $379,000. It will be about $313,000 after the reduction, according to her contract.

Both of their salaries will return to the base rates in July 2021.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comment from both Leatherwood and Nellis. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that both Karagosian and Shaffer are not part of Nellis’ cabinet. The president’s cabinet is made up of their council with a few additions.

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