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Thursday, December 9, 2021

State Senate proposes bill to cap CSU president salaries

The California State University and University of California systems have both seen contention over coinciding tuition hikes and increases in executive compensation of late. State Senator Ted Lieu (D-Redondo Beach) speaks to the current controversy with his proposed bill focused on capping the salaries of CSU presidents.

Under the bill, CSU presidents’ salaries would be limited to 150 percent of the salary of the California Supreme Court’s Chief Justice — restricting pay to $343,269. In addition, CSU Trustees would be barred from approving any pay raise or bonus for presidents if a student tuition increase occurred within the previous three years.

Other provisions include preference for presidential positions given to candidates within the CSU system and California, with out-of-state applicants considered last. The Trustees are also mandated to discuss any legislation in altering presidential salary or tuition in meetings open to the public.

The latter stipulation is already in existence, said CSU Media Relations Manager Erik Fallis. However, Ray Sotero, Sen. Lieu’s communications director, openly contradicts this assertion.

“We have reason to believe that they sometimes make these discussions in closed session,” said Sotero. “Especially as it relays to salary.”

CSU currently has nine presidents previously affiliated with the university system before climbing the ranks. Compensation for such presidents is largely based on comparing individual CSU campuses to other universities deemed equivalent through a series of factors, including enrollment, total budget and research funding.

The university system employs private consulting firm Mercer to help compile the data for these comparisons.

“Like any consulting group, they work for whoever is paying their bill,” said Judy Heiman, CSU analyst for California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO).

In the past the now-defunct California Postsecondary Education Commission and the LAO worked with the CSU system to decide which institutions are compared. This year the CSU system made its decision solely with research provided by Mercer.

Despite questioning behind salary determination, Fallis agrees there are intrinsic problems with the CSU budget, but that those focusing solely on executive compensation miss a larger issue. He states the total salaries of the top 29 CSU executives, including the 26 presidents, account for two-tenths of one percent of the entire CSU budget.

“[Presidential salaries] increasing are not related to the cost of providing education,” said Fallis. “These are not what are driving fee increases.”

The sentiment of addressing the issue of public funding cuts as cause for tuition hikes, instead of focusing solely on increases in presidential salaries, is shared by University of California faculty as well.

“The solution to our budget problems isn’t to pay administrators less, but the effects on morale and the signals to the public about our priorities are very harmful when we appear to have [presidential] salaries as our main indicator of success,” said James Chalfant, UC Davis agriculture and resource economics professor and University of California Committee on Planning and Budget Chair.

UC Santa Barbara English professor and co-creator of the blog “Remaking the University,” Chris Newfield, quips a favorite California public university notion: “The state used to send us dollars, and now it just sends us rules.”

Newfield claims leadership of public universities by someone focused on public service and not salary is crucial to make the case to the state that these institutions need public funding.

UC Davis Law Professor and former UC Academic Senate Chair Daniel Simmons expresses the complexity of top administrative salaries and its effect on public assessment.

“I believe that executive compensation issues, going far beyond the chancellors, have greatly harmed UC over the last 15 years and have probably done more budgetary damage in terms of negative perception of the University than all of the good accomplished by those administrators,” said Simmons. “Nonetheless, just like faculty, the administration of UC is under-compensated relative to peers, and that is a difficult situation.”

UC chancellors’ salaries were excluded from the bill due to autonomy granted to UC Regents under the state’s constitution that is not bestowed upon the CSU or Community College systems.

KELLEY REES can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

1 COMMENT

  1. I’d be willing to bet that the number of qualified – and morally centered – UC degree holding candidates far exceeds the number of available UC administration positions. Conclusion: nation-wide recuiting is neither necessary nor proper.

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