SPRINGFIELD — Missouri State University has paid almost $700,000 to nine departing employees in the past five years, nearly half of that to cut ties with an associate professor who was outed as a sex offender and a former women’s basketball coach.
The $173,000 payment to biomedical science teacher Michael Hendrix and a $257,000 payment to former coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson were approved within a three-week period this spring.
Hendrix, whose settlement received the most publicity, pleaded guilty in Ohio in 1983 to raping a 9-year-old Cincinnati boy and served 3½ years in prison.
He told the university about his conviction when he was hired in 1995, but his case became public again in April after a Missouri State journalism student asked parents how they felt about “having a sex offender on campus.”
The university first reassigned Hendrix away from a building near a child care center. Later, he was placed on administrative leave when information arose that he had contact with children and did not comply with sex offender registry rules.
Administrators defend using buyouts, which generally are offered to only a couple of the more than 60 faculty who leave each year through retirement or resignation.
“You try to make some sort of judgment on the merits of litigation. What is it worth to the university to resolve it?” said Missouri State President Mike Nietzel, who has agreed to five such buyouts in his two years at the university.
“It’s not (a) $10,000 (agreement) versus nothing, but it’s $10,000 versus two months of a court case.”
Nietzel said in all cases the agreements were broached by the university or the faculty member when an employee was found to have a performance problem or a conflict.
John Black, the university’s attorney who handled the negotiation on all nine cases, equated the settlement process to a “messy divorce” in which the two sides agree there are irreconcilable differences.
Most of the agreements are made with tenured faculty. Under state statute, such workers can only be fired for “incompetence, neglect or refusal to perform his duties, dishonesty, drunkenness or immoral conduct.”
Sometimes the reasons for wanting a faculty member to leave fall into a gray area. In the case of Abrahamson-Henderson, the university could see increases in both ticket sales and fan support with a new coach, Nietzel and Black said.
Abrahamson-Henderson resigned with two years remaining on her contract.