Auburn University’s $4.5 million separation agreement gains national attention

New reaction to payout of Auburn president Steven Leath

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The $4.5 million settlement agreement between former Auburn University President Steven Leath and the Board of Trustees is garnering national attention.

Leath and the Board agreed to part ways two years into his five year contract, resulting in a pricey payout.

Post-secondary education experts say it’s a number rarely heard in settlements between public universities and outgoing presidents. The cost of severing the contract even caught the attention of Washington, D.C. editor Scott Jaschik, who co-founded Inside Higher Ed, an agency that studies and publishes secondary education trends.

“It’s a lot of money and raises the question why they wanted him gone,” Jaschik stated.

The separation agreement leaves little room for comment outside confirmation of a mutual split between Leath and the University. In June, the University issued a news release announcing the severance, stating the parties were parting ways following lengthy discussions over leadership.

“He had some reason to not be president, he had some reason they didn’t want him in office,” Jaschik explained. “So the question for all of us, what was that reason worth all the money?”

Perhaps the most controversial element of the agreement: Leath is earning more money in the settlement than he would have made serving out the remainder of his contract.

“It seems terrible, it seems like something only a rich person would go along with but the reality is of course is that presidents of public and private universities are paid a lot,” he stated.

Jaschik says universities typically use special funds for these payments, stating large universities like Auburn have private money to pull from - outside state appropriations. Due to the agreement, Auburn couldn't speak to what funds are covering the payments.

"Really, people should keep an eye out for anything that should explain this" he said.

WSFA 12 News reached out to Gov. Kay Ivey’s Office regarding the settlement and any concern over the use of state appropriations in this payout.

“As president of the Board of Trustees, as governor and as an alumna, I have a vested interest in the future of Auburn University,” Ivey stated in a written response. “I have confidence in the members of the Board of Trustees as we move forward with this process. I am passionate to see one of our state’s flagship universities achieve success and continue delivering for our students, research and Alabama’s workforce.”

The Board appointed retired Auburn President Jay Gouge to serve in an interim capacity until a permanent president is named.

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