On May 16, Middlebury Board of Trustees Chair Kim Parizeau, along with former chairs Marna Whittington and Rick Fritz, sent the following message in an email to employees.
Dear Members of the Middlebury Community:
Yesterday, Middlebury filed its annual IRS Form 990, which reports on the financial activities of the institution, for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2017. Schedule J of that filing presents information relating to executive compensation. Because the information contained in Schedule J is of special interest to members of our community and because this year’s filing describes a special, one-time disbursement of deferred compensation to former President Ron Liebowitz, we are writing to provide additional information and context.
Yesterday’s filing shows that former president Liebowitz received a vested deferred retirement payment of $2.96 million in 2016. That payment includes $1.43 million in contributions from Middlebury College during Ron’s 11-year presidency and $1.53 million in cumulative earnings on those contributions.
This payment to Ron was made under the terms of a supplemental executive retirement plan (SERP) that the Board of Trustees created in 2006 and renewed in 2010 as part of Ron’s overall compensation package. SERPs are a well-established tool for recruiting and retaining senior college and university presidents. That package was reviewed and benchmarked, as is our practice, by a third-party law firm, and the trustees believe now, as we believed then, that it was fair and reasonable. Retirement plan payments sometimes draw attention at the end of successful, long-term presidencies because of the cumulative value that is paid and reported in a single year. They should not be confused with a standard retention agreement or a one-time payout upon the departure of an executive.
It is important to note that in electing to use the SERP, Ron agreed to be paid a reduced salary during his presidency. In fact, in every year from 2007 – 2015, Ron’s salary was near the lowest among Middlebury’s peer group. Instead, he agreed to have Middlebury make contributions to the SERP, which would vest upon (and only upon) completion of his contract. That meant he would not receive the deferred compensation unless and until he served the full term of his agreement. The money was invested in a special fund alongside—but not as part of— Middlebury’s endowment with the understanding that, upon his retirement, Ron would receive the principal plus the accumulated investment earnings. The money would be treated as taxable income when paid.
In addition to the SERP payment, today’s filing will show that in 2016 Ron received an amount equal to his base compensation ($470,680) owed him for a deferred sabbatical earned before he became president. That payment, plus the value of his standard retirement contribution and Middlebury’s ordinary benefits, brought the total amount reported in the Form 990 to $3.51 million.
As the current and prior chairs of the Middlebury Board of Trustees, we share the administration’s belief that it is important to communicate this information, in the spirit of transparency, to ensure that faculty and staff have access to relevant information relating to yesterday’s filing and the context needed to understand and explain it.
As always, thank you for all you do for Middlebury.
Board Chair, 2016 - present
Board Chair, 2012 - 2016
Board Chair, 2004 - 2012