By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN — The University of Nebraska board of directors is considering buying an official home for the president of the university system.
President J.B. Milliken owns his own home in the Country Club Neighborhood on Sheridan Boulevard and gets $24,000 per year to defray his housing expenses. But the university’s Board of Regents has been talking for years about returning to the past practice of providing an official residence for the president, as was the case until the official president’s home was destroyed by a fire in 1996. The University of Nebraska Foundation owned the house.
Board of Regents Chairman Jim McClurg said a foundation donor has expressed interest in buying a house for the president, who’s expected to frequently entertain and host events in his home, which creates “substantial liability.”
“We need an official president’s residence,” McClurg told Nebraska Watchdog.
Milliken bought a nearly 6,000-square-foot house on Sheridan Boulevard for $682,500 in 2004.
The regents’ Executive Committee voted last week to recommend passing the proposal. A resolution to be considered by the regents Friday would give their Executive Committee authority to negotiate a housing agreement with the foundation.
According to data compiled for the regents, eight other Big Ten universities — the athletic conference includes 12 schools — provide a home for the president, while Indiana University provides a $48,000 housing allowance. Housing data for the remaining two schools was not known.
Regent Tim Clare said Milliken’s home is older, and it doesn’t have the “modern conveniences” sometimes needed for events. He said Milliken is not pushing the housing proposal, and it’s not high on his list of priorities.
“I know we’ve talked with J.B. about it for awhile,” Clare said.
Neither Clare nor McClurg were sure whether Milliken would be required to move into an official residence or whether the foundation would simply buy Milliken’s house.
Jack Gould of Common Cause Nebraska, a government watchdog group, said if the foundation buys Milliken’s house another property would leave the tax rolls, as would the $12,300 annual property tax bill. Gould said Milliken’s contract already includes money for house cleaning, lawn care and snow removal.
“What’s going to happen is they’re going to buy his house and he’s still going to live in it,” Gould said. “Why do you want to do something like that?”
But he’s most concerned about the increasing amount of foundation funds used to boost Nebraska administrators’ salaries and perks.
“That raises serious questions,” Gould said. “You can’t serve two masters. … Are they going to be working for the public or are they working for the foundation?”
Milliken already receives a supplemental retirement allowance of $12,000 annually, a university car with gas, insurance and maintenance covered, a country club membership and $22,000 annual expense account.
“The perks just go on and on,” Gould said. “How can they have compassion for a kid who’s working two jobs and trying to go to school?”
He said that money would be better spent to lower tuition or send more kids to college.
Clare said providing housing for the president is progressive and vision-oriented.
“To have a great university, you need great leaders,” he said. “I think J.B.’s provided tremendous leadership and you always want to make sure that that leadership is viewed by the system as being appreciated. He’s a guy that’s taken the university places that we’ve never been before.”
The regents will also consider giving Milliken a 2.3 percent raise, from his current $411,370 salary to $420,757 – nearly 22 percent of which comes from private funds.
Milliken was traveling and unavailable for comment.
Reported by Deena Winter, firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog.
Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.