Serious questions for those who raise university administrators’ pay

At a time when many legislators and educators want desperately to increase education funding for our public schools and universities, the California State University is making it much more difficult to do so. How? Because of recent actions by the university to dramatically increase their own executive’s compensation.

Why would or should the head of this public university system make a higher salary than Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger or even President George W. Bush?
Why would good shepherds of the public’s money and trust approve exorbitant salary increases during a time when student fees have nearly doubled in just five years? When student classes and services are being cut? When over $1 billion in unmet maintenance costs remain unfunded, and educational opportunities are increasingly reserved for the wealthy while low-income and middle-class families find it harder to afford paying for a public four-year degree?

Why would the governing board of the nation’s largest four-year public university system think it’s not only inappropriate–but wrong–for state policymakers, students and faculty to question these salary increases?

The answers lie with the California State University Board of Trustees, who just approved the third increase executive salaries since 2005. These salary hikes for campus presidents and senior Chancellor’s Office staff include an increase for CSU Chancellor Charles Reed’s salary of over $100,000 for a total salary of $421,500/year. And that’s not including the free housing that he and many of his colleagues are given, or the $50-60,000/year housing allowances given CSU executives if no free home is provided. Nor do the new salaries include increases in car allowances totaling $12,000/year that Reed and every other campus president and CSU executive now receive.

And what is the basis for these increases? An incomplete state study that is now deemed misleading by the agency that conducted it, and a private study commissioned by the CSU administration and funded by $28,000 in tax payer dollars–a study that has never been made public and that the CSU administration refuses to release.

Such controversies are not new for the CSU Trustees. Newspaper reports last year identified numerous CSU executives who continued to receive six-figure salaries even though they had “retired” from the CSU, while some were receiving large salaries from companies that had hired them. Now CSU executives are the topic of another state audit scheduled to be released in October.

Most Californian’s point to the 1960 Master Plan for higher education as a key reason why California’s economy thrived during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Most Californians recognize the great responsibility we collectively have to educate our current diverse student population in a manner that would allow this generation to excel in a global economy. Sadly, the recent CSU Board action will make efforts to increase investment in our students much more difficult. Two bills on the governor’s desk would help curb such flagrant and irresponsible actions. Both bills are motivated by a strong desire to win back the public’s trust in our nation’s largest four-year public university system.

The CSU must stop this blatant disregard for sound fiscal governance by immediately halting plans for a 40 percent pay increase without any substantial justification. The CSU must wait for the Joint Legislative Audit of its executive compensation to be completed before approving any more pay increases. The CSU must drop its opposition to the good government reforms in AB 1413 and SB 190.

Don’t our students demand trustees that are more interested in their well being then exorbitant and irresponsible pay raise?

AB 1413 would ensure greater accountability, oversight and communication among the governor, legislature and CSU governing board, and establish reasonable guidelines for future executive compensation increases. The bill would also prohibit payouts to executives for work never performed or teaching responsibilities never fulfilled.

SB 190 would ensure that executive compensation decisions are made in the light of day, with full public disclosure and public accountability. The bill would also require compensation packages be accompanied by rationale and allow for increased public scrutiny.

Both of these reform measures are sorely needed, and we call on the Governor to uphold his promise to the public to increase the accountability of state agencies by signing these two bills into law.

Californians deserve to read accounts of how the CSU puts our student’s priorities before exorbitant executive compensation scandals and practices. Only then can legislators fight for the resources to educate our most vital asset, our children.

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