Sargent is a native of Newport, New Hampshire and graduated from the Suffolk University Law School magna cum laude in 1954, ranked number one and president of his class. He was admitted to the bar in Massachusetts and New Hampshire that same year.
He returned as an adjunct professor in 1956 and soon became a full professor. From 1972 to 1989, Sargent directed the Law School as dean. Sargent assumed the university presidency in 1989. The Sargent building (1999) which houses Suffolk University Law School is named after him.
In its November 17, 2008 compensation survey, The Chronicle of Higher Education listed Sargent as the highest paid college or university president in the United States. They mistakenly claimed that Sargent's compensation in 2006-2007 totaled $2.8 million, however, this was a one time check made to his retirement account. Sargent's compensation is roughly on par with most other college presidents, about $400,000 per year.
As evidenced on page 43 of Suffolk University’s 2009 IRS Form 990, ex- university president David J. Sargent made $832,782 in total compensation for 2008. On page 45 of that same IRS form the breakdown of the compensation is as follows: $463,479 in base compensation; $89,816 in bonus and incentive compensation; $47,173 in other compensation; $211,136 in deferred compensation; and $21,178 in non-taxable benefits.
On Wednesday, October 20, 2010, an e-mail was sent to the student body of Suffolk University announcing the retirement of Sargent. He was awarded the position of president emeritus due to his "extraordinary years of service to Suffolk University." Sargent spent 21 years as the president of the university. According to The Boston Globe, the board of trustees for the university forced Sargent out with a unanimous vote.
- The AALS directory of law teachers (West Pub. Co., 2007)
- "Suffolk Law School’s next challenge" Boston Globe, November 17, 2009 http://www.lawschool.com/nextchallenge.htm
- Peter Schworm (November 17, 2008). "Suffolk's Sargent tops pay scale for college presidents". The Boston Globe. boston.com. Retrieved 9 February 2009.
- Ryan Boyle (October 20, 2010). "Suffolk President Unexpectedly Retires". The Suffolk Journal. suffolkjournal.net. Retrieved 21 October 2010.
- Tracy Jan (October 21, 2010). "Suffolk leader suddenly retires". The Boston Globe. boston.com. Retrieved 21 October 2010.
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