Last week’s announcement of the resignation of former Executive Vice President for University Advancement Dr. Lawrence Davenport has generated considerable commentary. I believe some additional clarification of the circumstances surrounding his resignation may assist the FAU family and other interested observers in understanding his departure and the University’s forward direction.
THE VICE PRESIDENT FOR ADVANCEMENT
As an initial matter, it is important to recognize the critical role of a university’s vice president for advancement. Beyond the President of the institution, FAU’s Vice President for Advancement is the university’s primary “ambassador” to the business and donor community, a community that is vital to our success. Through the generous support of our donors, buildings are built, academic programs are established, and scholarships are created. Securing the substantial support of donors and benefactors for such important initiatives is a critical responsibility of the Vice President for Advancement.
The Vice President for Advancement also has significant managerial and administrative responsibilities. At FAU, our Advancement Division is comprised of more than 40 employees, all of whom report directly or indirectly to the Vice President.
And finally, the Vice President for Advancement is also the Executive Director of the Florida Atlantic University Foundation, Inc., (“FAUF”) the not-for-profit corporation established solely to receive and administer property and assets for the benefit of the University. The Vice President must effectively organize and run this organization of 40 or more volunteers, and facilitate productive interactions between those volunteers and the university community.
When the Vice President for Advancement successfully discharges his or her responsibilities, the benefit to the university is tremendous. The market for persons with such skills is exceptionally competitive.
As is widely known, at FAU the position of Vice President for Advancement has recently experienced some significant challenges. When I assumed the presidency in March of 2003, the Vice President for Advancement position was filled by an interim. We appointed a university search committee and invested more than a year before hiring Ann Paton from Brown University. Unfortunately, little more than a year later, Ms. Paton unexpectedly departed in response to a highly competitive offer from another university. We had no choice but to form another university search committee and embark on another national search.
At that time, Dr. Davenport served as the University’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. In his long career in the education and not-for-profit sectors, Dr. Davenport had held significant fund-raising and advancement positions. He was thus a natural to fill the position on an interim basis during our search.
Unfortunately, after more than six months, our committee had not identified a suitable candidate. During this time, Dr. Davenport had excelled in his performance as Interim Vice President for Advancement. Therefore, in January 2006, Dr. Davenport and I concluded that he could best serve FAU by assuming the responsibilities of Vice President for Advancement on a full-time basis. Because he was assuming a new position with substantial new responsibilities, he and I negotiated new terms for his employment that I felt were appropriate.
THE NEED FOR CHANGE
The FAUF achieved many successes during Dr. Davenport’s tenure, and for that we are grateful. During this time, however, it also became apparent to me that he and I had some significant differences in our leadership philosophies, our communication styles, and our views on the optimal relationship between a university and its support foundation. Such professional differences are not unusual, of course, and strong leadership teams often consist of individuals with competing or even conflicting points of view. But because of the unique “ambassadorial” functions of a vice president for advancement, I feel it is exceptionally important for that office to speak with the same voice as the president. I shared some concerns with Dr. Davenport on different occasions, but over time it became clear to me that Dr. Davenport and I simply had some good faith differences in perspective that would not be bridged. I respect the strength with which he holds his views, and therefore decided it would be in both his and FAU’s best interests to make a change.
I felt it was appropriate to move forward immediately and address the future of the Vice President for Advancement position for two important reasons. First, the Foundation is undertaking significant steps right now to determine the feasibility of and a potential strategy for a new capital campaign. This is the most significant undertaking a university foundation can embark upon. Done correctly, the effort requires years of preparation and years more to bring to fruition. The success of a capital campaign is the signature achievement of any vice president for advancement. Important preparatory decisions regarding the capital campaign must be made. By making a change now, the final critical decisions for planning a campaign can be made by the individual who will be responsible for seeing them through to successful completion.
Second, the Foundation Board is set to elect new leadership this month. The members of our community who serve on the board, and especially those who serve as its officers, make an extraordinary commitment of their time and resources. The Board’s leaders frequently interact with and rely upon the Vice President for Advancement. I felt it was only fair to those who were considering accepting leadership roles on the FAUF Board to know in advance that they would be working with a new Vice President.
I informed Dr. Davenport last month of my conclusion that a change was necessary. In doing so, I was mindful of two realities. First, if FAU were to terminate Dr. Davenport’s employment, it might have affected his ability to find future employment. This was hardly my desire, since it would be an honor for FAU if one of our former administrators became president of another university, as Dr. Davenport had come close to doing twice before. Terminating Dr. Davenport’s employment would thus also have the practical result of obligating FAU to pay him his full severance package due under his employment agreement.
Second, these considerations, as well as sound business practice, frequently result in an employer and its departing employee agreeing to characterize a separation from employment as a resignation when possible, and often entail a full release of claims as part of the severance package.
Dr. Davenport and I worked together in developing a structure for his separation from the University that would maximize his prospects for future employment and minimize the risks to the University associated with any separation from employment. Through negotiated compromise we reached an agreement that enabled him to resign in a mutually satisfactory manner.
Some concern has been expressed over the amount of the severance package in Dr. Davenport’s separation agreement. These concerns overlook several significant items.
First, the total amount that will be provided to Dr. Davenport is the same as the amount that would have been due to him under his employment contract severance provision if FAU had issued him his 90 days notice in March, terminated him without cause in June, and paid him his full severance package for 24 months while he searched for comparable employment. The total amount is thus more than simply twice his base annual salary because the employment contract required the University to pay his salary and full benefits through the three month notice period before beginning the 24 month severance payments. We agreed that the monthly payment amount would remain constant through the end of the year, with an equivalent reduction in the remaining monthly payments thereafter. Dr. Davenport’s separation agreement therefore did not commit any new funds that FAU was not already most likely obligated to pay under his employment contract.
Some may criticize his employment contract as too generous. I respectfully disagree, due to the unique challenges facing the Foundation at the time of his hiring. I believe the contract terms were appropriate and necessary to fill this important position at this critical time.
SOURCE OF FUNDS
The University has repeatedly stated that the payments to Dr. Davenport would not come from any state appropriated funds. To be clear on this point, the University will use only concession funds derived from beverage and vending sales to pay the severance. These funds are reflected in our annual budgets and are reserved for a variety of discretionary expenditures that cannot be paid from state appropriations. The university will scale back its other expenditures of these funds during the term of the severance payments. No funds from state appropriations, the Foundation, or university auxiliary enterprises will be used at any time.
We will soon form a new search committee to identify a permanent Vice President for Advancement. We will solicit significant involvement from the Foundation. In the interim, I am confident that our Vice President of Finance & Administration, Dr. Ken Jessell, who has agreed to also serve as Interim Vice President for Advancement, will maintain the strong momentum of the Foundation.
It is a university president’s responsibility to staff and organize the university’s senior management team in the manner that best serves the university. Because of the significance of the Vice President for Advancement position, I feel it appropriate to have taken the unusual step of providing this detailed insight into my decision-making process in this matter. I am proud of the accomplishments FAU has achieved in the past four years, and I thank Dr. Davenport for his contributions. I also look forward to continuing to build on our successes as an institution.
The recent resignation of Florida Atlantic University Executive Vice President for Advancement Dr. Lawrence Davenport has prompted questions to the FAU Board of Trustees. In response, I am issuing the following statement.
The Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees has delegated to the University President final authority to approve and execute contracts on behalf of the University. This delegation is authorized under Florida law, under which the responsibilities of a University president include the power to execute contracts and establish and implement personnel policies and procedures. The final approval by President Brogan of the separation agreement between FAU and Dr. Davenport is consistent with the Board’s delegation of authority and did not require action by the Board.
I believe it is appropriate for the Board to review its existing policies relating to contract review and approval. I have asked the University administration to prepare a discussion of these policies at the upcoming meeting of the Board’s Audit and Finance Committee.