Simon unlocks lifetime perks with resignation

Jonathan Oosting, and Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon, who submitted a resignation letter late Wednesday amid fallout over the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal, could continue earning most of her salary if she returns to the faculty and will have access to free football game and other event tickets for life.

An employment agreement Simon signed in late 2012 guarantees a host of post-presidency benefits that kicked in with her resignation. The university on Thursday provided the agreement to The Detroit News.

Simon was earning a $750,000 base salary and a $100,000 annual retention bonus under a 2014 amendment approved by the Board of Trustees. According to the agreement, her resignation is not official for at least 60 days, a period during which she must continue to fulfill her duties and cooperate in the transition to a new president.

If she chooses to return to the faculty after her presidency, Simon could again earn her full $750,000 salary during a one-year research leave. She could earn the full salary for another year as a faculty member, and then 75 percent of that in subsequent years, or $562,500 annually.

Unlike many contracts negotiated for high-level corporate executives, Simon’s deal doesn’t promise a “golden parachute,” notes Deborah Gordon, a Bloomfield Hills-based employment and civil rights attorney.

“It’s not an automatic payment. She’s not just being given cash and can go out and do whatever she likes,” Gordon said. “On paper, she’s now on a leave to prepare for her return to the faculty where she will supposedly be providing a service to the university. At least there’s a quid pro quo.”

The agreement guarantees several other lifetime perks for Simon and her husband, including:

■Two free tickets to home football games in the Spartan Club on the 4th floor of the Stadium Tower

■Tickets for bowl games and post-season play for football, men’s and women’s basketball, and ice hockey, and tickets for performances on campus

■The option to purchase up to four season tickets for men’s basketball with the same or comparable location provided to her during the 2009-10 season

■Two free tickets to home women’s basketball games in a seating location comparable to the men’s games, and two free courtside tickets for women’s volleyball

■A parking pass for each home football game, home men’s and women’s basketball game, and home ice hockey game

■Two free all-event and all-location driving and parking passes as were available to her as president

Michael Bogren, an attorney for Punkett Cooney in Kalamazoo who specializes in public employment law, said the contract is “fairly standard” for the president of a major university.

“There’s nothing about that contract that really jumped out and struck me as unusual or really out of the norm,” said Bogren, who has reviewed dozens of presidential contracts for public universities in and outside of Michigan.

Simon’s base salary is high, and she’d likely be the highest paid faculty member at that level, he said, but it’s not surprising it was negotiated as something for her to fall back on.

“That’s a standard contract provision for all major universities. Frankly, any university would be hard-pressed to recruit a president if there was not a similar provision,” he said. “Universities know that to acquire and retain the top level people they are going to have to negotiate these kinds of contracts.”

The agreement requires the university to refer to Simon as President Emeritus upon resignation. She and her husband will continue to be provided technical computer support and access to all university computer services, including voicemail.

If she returns as faculty, the university would also be required to provide Simon with a suitable office, secretarial services, computer, technology, support and other office tools.

The incentives, Gordon added, are not surprising in a deal to attract and retain a president for a university the size of MSU. The language, she said, also reflects a desire to have the outgoing university president remain visible.

“I do realize she’s leaving under a cloud, that is true, but under normal circumstances you would like your former president to be connected to the university,” she said, adding “these contracts are developed with a bigger picture in mind.”

Simon sent a resignation letter to the Board of Trustees late Wednesday after the Michigan House of Representatives, both of the state’s U.S. Senators and a second university trustee called on her to step down.

Earlier Wednesday, an Ingham County judge sentenced Nassar to 40-175 years in prison for sexually abusing girls over more than two decades. More than 150 victims spoke out against him at sentencing.

“The survivors’ accounts are horrific,” Simon said in her resignation letter. “They are tragic, heartbreaking, and personally gut-wrenching. I take solace that many victims have indicated that the opportunity to confront Nassar is a step toward healing.”

As The Detroit News reported last week, sexual assault allegations against Nassar reached at least 14 Michigan State University representatives over two decades. Simon learned of a Title IX complaint and police report against an unnamed sports doctor in 2014 but said she never received a copy.

“As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable,” Simon wrote. “As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger.”

Staff writer Michael Gerstein contributed.