Faculty union ad targets CSU executive pay

The ad, launched last week, features Monopoly money raining down on a smiling Rich Uncle Pennybags. It links to an online petition that says CSU leaders are "out of touch" and presses for "a new pattern of public service that is appropriate for leaders of a public institution." Some 3,000 people have signed the petition so far.

Despite public outcry and a stinging rebuke from Gov. Jerry Brown, CSU trustees voted this summer to pay new San Diego State University President Elliot Hirshman $350,000 in state funds plus $50,000 in private pay. The same day, they raised student tuition by 12 percent. Former San Diego State President Stephen Weber made $299,435, according to a CSU compensation study [PDF].

The move prompted the late introduction of two bills to limit CSU executive compensation, but both stalled. One bill from Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose, would cap CSU administrative pay increases at no more than 10 percent in a year when there has been a tuition increase for students. Another bill by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would prohibit pay raises for top administrators at UC and CSU in bad budget years.

Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association, says she hopes the ad and petition create a tipping point for change to CSU's compensation practices.

"They are thinking in terms of being corporate CEOs, and of course, the little Monopoly guy is the quintessential corporate CEO, awash in the big bucks," Taiz said.

"We want the governor to keep up the pressure on the board of trustees and on the chancellor to really recognize in their hiring practices that this is public service," Taiz said.

CSU spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said administrators are dealing with these issues through a special seven-member committee of trustees that met twice in August to study executive selection and compensation. The committee aims to come up with recommendations later this year.

"We are aware that there are people that are concerned about some of the actions that happened back in the July board of trustees meeting," he said. "We're working to try to address some of those concerns, and the special committee is a direct result of that."

The Special Committee on Presidential Selection and Compensation met on Aug. 8 and Aug. 24. While Uhlenkamp expects the group to deliver recommendations on changing the presidential selection process at the board of trustees' Sept. 20-21 meeting, proposals on compensation will take longer. The panel plans to meet again in mid-October, with compensation-related recommendations expected by the end of the year.

Taiz said she's hopeful, but skeptical.

"The fear, of course, is that they will assess their policy and say, 'It's a good policy, and we're just going to stick with it,' " she said. "This really is a moment where they could stop, stand back and take a look at how they frame their thinking about this position."

The committee has been looking at whether some type of salary cap might work, though the group has not come to a conclusion on that, Uhlenkamp said.

One thing the committee has agreed on: The list of colleges and universities that the CSU campuses have historically been compared with for compensation purposes needs to change, Uhlenkamp said.

The CSU campuses have long been compared with a list of 20 institutions created by the California Postsecondary Education Commission, the state's higher education coordination body that was eliminated by Brown's budget. The list includes Cleveland State, Rutgers and Wayne State universities, for example. With the commission out of the picture, CSU plans to propose that its campuses be compared with a new set of colleges and universities.

Uhlenkamp said the committee would propose that the system's 23 campuses be divided into four tiers, from small campuses, like the California Maritime Academy, to its largest, such as CSU Fullerton. Each tier would be compared with 10 colleges and universities deemed similar in size and scope.

It's unclear what impact the new lists would have on CSU executive compensation levels, however.

"It's to provide something that's a little more accurate," Uhlenkamp said.

Any reforms to the compensation policies would have impact soon. Two CSU presidents are on the cusp of retirement -- CSU Northridge President Jolene Koester retires in December, and San Francisco State University President Robert Corrigan retires next year. That means two new presidential searches.

As for recommendations on presidential selection, the committee will propose [PDF] making it optional, rather than mandatory, for presidential candidates to make public visits to the campus at the end of the interview process.

"We want to make sure that we're not limiting the pool by forcing people to be exposed," Uhlenkamp said.

Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)

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