Yesterday I broke news about an unusual employment arrangement granted to University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy’s chief of staff. Under the terms, Angelique Foster would be allowed to work from her new home in Texas while collecting all of her current $114,000 per year salary and enjoying up to $25,000 per year in travel expenses.
(My original report said Foster would be working from North Carolina, but that was a misunderstanding on my part. Foster is originally from North Carolina, and I had assumed that’s where she was moving. I have corrected the original post.)
When I reached out to UND spokesman David Dodds for more information, he justified this move by claiming that it would be cheaper than hiring a new chief of staff based on regional salary comparisons for that position. “We conducted a search for a Chief of Staff and, as part of the process, learned that such position among higher education institutions in our region and peer group run $185,000 as a median and $225,000 as an average. Some spot checking confirmed those figures,” he told me.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]That timeline makes UND’s justification of Foster’s employment arrangement, based on regional comparisons of salaries for chiefs of staff, seem more than a little misleading.[/mks_pullquote]
Yet it turns out Foster hasn’t actually been a “chief of staff” for all that long.
On November 8, 2018, a posting on a UND blog written by Dodds indicated that Foster would be leaving “her position as special assistant to UND President Mark Kennedy in May.” The posting described a ceremony in which Kennedy gave Foster UND’s “President’s Medal” award.
But yesterday, in response to inquiries, Dodds told me Foster had been promoted to chief of staff just before that ceremony. On November 1st, 2018, she was given the chief of staff title and a $30,000 per year raise.
Per Dodds, Foster was originally hired in 2016 at a salary of $80,000 per year. On June 1, 2017, she was given a “probationary increase” in her pay up to $84,000. Then, on November 1, her salary went up to $114,000 alongside her promotion. On February 12, in another UND blog post, it was announced that Foster would be working remotely.
That timeline makes UND’s justification of Foster’s employment arrangement, based on regional comparisons of salaries for chiefs of staff, seem more than a little misleading.
Also curious is the timing of Foster’s November raise. Just days after it was made official UND held a ceremony indicating that she’d be leaving in May. Why give a promotion and such a large salary increase to an employee who was leaving?
I asked that question of Dodds, and he’s promised to get back to me with an explanation today.
UPDATE: Dodds provided me with this explanation for why Foster was given a promotion and raise just before it was announced she’d be leaving the school:
At the time that I wrote that post in November in UND Today, the intent was to celebrate Angelique’s work and her receiving The Presidents Medal.
It is my understanding that a market study had been completed prior to Angelique receiving her promotion and salary adjustment (again, we are working on getting you a digital copy), as has been the case with a number of other employees across campus when it was found that their compensations needed to be aligned with level of job responsibilities. The changes surrounding Angelique brought her title more in line with her actual duties and increased her compensation as well, though her salary still is much lower than the median and average salary of her regional peers in higher education.
The University felt that these adjustments needed to be made regardless of whether Angelique was leaving or not, for a fairer compensation of her responsibilities.
I truly believe that the plan, at the time, was never for Angelique to stay on.
Meanwhile, my original story has inspired some very harsh criticism of Kennedy. Here’s former UND sports spokesman Jayson Hajdu:
No raises for, what, three years and counting now? Programs cut. Positions eliminated (mostly worker bees making one-third of this salary but willing and able to work from, ya know, work). Morale at its nadir.
Gotta give this one a 10 out of 10 on the ol' Tone Deaf Scale. https://t.co/RyPp0Lpj3a
— Jayson Hajdu (@JaysonHajdu) February 14, 2019