Outgoing president gave up housing, cars, possibly more

Since former Oakland University Women’s Basketball coach Beckie Francis was fired June 12, and her husband, Oakland University President Gary Russi, announced his retirement the same day, much speculation has surrounded the reasons for their departures and whether there was a connection.

Although there has been extensive local reporting about the reasons for Francis’ termination (see sidebar), there has been a complete dearth of information about the reasons for Russi’s retirement. But the timing certainly was not advantageous for him.

According to contracts obtained by The Oakland Post, Russi may have forfeited $270,000 in deferred compensation, and he and his wife lost numerous employment perks when he unexpectedly retired. 

Russi and Francis lived at Sunset Terrace on campus free of charge.  According to Russi’s contract, the University also paid for:

  • 20 hours per week of maid service
  • Interior and exterior maintenance
  • Furniture
  • Telephone at the residence for business use 
  • FAX machine
  • Computer
  • Cable or satellite television, 
  • Liability insurance
  • Option to drive a leased or owned vehicle or receive a monthly vehicle allowance, in addition to 
  • l gasoline.

Francis’ employment contract also included a fully insured car for business and personal use. Her contract stated that the University would pay for all fuel.

According to documents retrieved by the Post from the Freedom of Information Act, Francis made several requests for cell phone allowances. 

Francis cell phone allowance timeline:

  • April 1, 2007: $70 per month 
  • February 2008: increased to $75 per month in addition to a one-time cell phone purchase amount of $555.43. Her business justification was “recruiting and team business.”
  • July 1, 2008 – increased to $125 per month
  • June 1, 2009 – increased to $150 per month. Her business justification was: “recruiting, travel, etc.” The allowance end date was “until notified.”

Russi signed a deferred compensation agreement in 2011 that would have paid him $270,000 dependent on his employment through June 30, 2014. However, it is unclear whether his retirement will be interpreted as a resignation. 

Resignation or retirement

Lawyer Jane Briggs-Bunting, former Director of the Michigan State University School of Journalism and chair of the Department of Rhetoric, Communication and Journalism at Oakland University, said she believes “OU will say retirement means he resigned.”

If Oakland does treat Russi’s retirement as a resignation, then it appears Russi forfeited at least $270,000 just a year before he would’ve collected that money. That’s in addition to the $357,875 salary he would’ve earned. 

Update (8/12): The Board of Trustees unanimously approved the Treasurer’s Report on August 12th to grant Russi 5 years of deferred compensation, totaling $225,000. He won’t receive $45,000 of deferred compensation that he would’ve earned in the 2013-2014 school year.