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Contract for Florida Polytechnic University's new president comes into focus

A nighttime view of a glass dome in front of a lake.
WUSF Public Media
A nighttime view of Florida Polytechnic University.

The Florida Polytechnic University Board of Trustees are set to meet Thursday, and could sign off on a proposed three-year contract that includes a $490,000 base salary for incoming president Devin Stephenson.

The Florida Polytechnic University Board of Trustees this week could potentially approve a contract for incoming president Devin Stephenson, who would be paid a lower starting salary than most recently named university leaders.

Stephenson is currently president of Northwest Florida State College in Niceville. The trustees earlier this month selected Stephenson to serve as the school’s second president since it opened to students in 2014.

The Florida Poly trustees are set to meet Thursday, and could sign off on a proposed three-year contract that includes a $490,000 base salary for Stephenson. The contract would go into effect July 7, as retiring Florida Poly President Randy Avent is slated to step down. After a sabbatical, Avent is expected to return to the university’s faculty.

Florida Poly is unique among the state’s network of 12 universities, serving as the system’s only school that is solely focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education. It is the second-smallest school by enrollment, with 1,544 students in the fall semester of this year.

In addition to the nearly half-million dollars in base salary that Stephenson would start with, the proposed contract calls for his rate of pay to be “reviewed annually for increase” by the trustees.

“The President shall each year also be eligible for any salary increase generally applicable to University employees in his employment classification, but in no event shall the Base Salary increase be less than Three and One-Half Percent (3.5%) of the prior year's Base Salary,” the proposed contract says.

Under the proposed employment agreement, Stephenson also would be eligible for annual “performance compensation” bonuses of up to 30 percent of his base salary, or about $147,000 in his first year, based on annual performance evaluations by the school’s trustees.

The proposed contract also would provide Stephenson with $30,000 for moving, relocation and travel expenses, a $7,000 monthly housing allowance and a $1,200 monthly vehicle allowance.

“The President shall each year also be eligible for any salary increase generally applicable to University employees in his employment classification, but in no event shall the Base Salary increase be less than Three and One-Half Percent (3.5%) of the prior year's Base Salary.”
Proposed contract for incoming Florida Poly president Devin Stephenson

If it is approved by the Florida Poly trustees this week, the contract also would need to be backed by the state university system’s Board of Governors.

Stephenson will step into the job after more than half of the state’s universities have hired new leaders in recent years. All of those school leaders have inked contracts with higher initial base salaries than what has been proposed for Stephenson.

Of the wave of new university presidents, Florida Gulf Coast University President Aysegul Timur’s contract is the most similar in terms of duration and pay.

The Board of Governors last summer approved a three-year contract for Timur with a $500,000 base salary.

University of North Florida President Moez Limayem was given a five-year contract with an initial base salary of $500,000 in 2022.

Other university presidents named in recent years have base salaries that are significantly higher.

University of Florida President Ben Sasse got a five-year contract with an initial $1 million base salary that was approved by the Board of Governors in Nov. of 2022. Sasse, a Republican former U.S. Senator from Nebraska, is in line to receive an additional $1 million for serving the five-year term, in addition to being eligible for other perks.

New College of Florida President Richard Corcoran, a Republican former speaker of the Florida House, was given a five-year contract with a base salary of $699,000 last year.

The New College Board of Trustees earlier this month signed off on releasing $200,000 in incentive pay to Corcoran. Under the agreement, Corcoran is eligible to receive $200,000 per year in incentive compensation “based on his achievement of the goals and objectives” laid out in the contract.

Florida State University President Richard McCullough in 2021 was given a five-year contract with an initial base salary of $700,000 to lead the school.

Florida International University President Kenneth Jessel, named to the role in 2022 after serving as the school’s interim leader, received an initial base salary of $650,000 per year.

University of South Florida President Rhea Law, who also had previously led the school on an interim basis, in 2022 agreed to a three-year contract with a base salary of $655,000.

University presidents’ base salaries may have increased since the leaders accepted the jobs.