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UC backs off new money grab

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It came as a welcome turnaround when the executive compensation committee of the University of California regents suddenly halted discussion of a stealthy move to boost top executive pay 13 to 17 percent next year, with a goal of raising salaries one-third over four years. Committee member Judith Hopkinson explained the delay as simply a need to obtain more information.

However, it is hard to avoid suspicion that what the UC regents actually needed more information about was how badly they would be blasted by public opinion after an immediate press backlash. It was also hard to avoid suspicion that the regents’ closed-session outburst of managerial generosity was actually an attempt to push through questionable raises before state Sen. Leland Yee’s legislation mandating open discussion of such compensation packages becomes law on Jan. 1.

The regents’ latest attempt to slip through fattened paychecks for its chancellors, provosts and other campus executives — many of whom are already paid $300,000 to $400,000 — appears particularly inappropriate at this time. UC student fees have gone up 85 percent during the last six years without any significant improvement in education quality, according to the University of California Students Association.

The upcoming UC budget request approved by the board’s finance committee would also include another 7 percent fee hike, unless the state provides an extra $70.5 million — highly unlikely since a projected $10 billion California deficit was announced by state financial officers Wednesday and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is seeking 10 percent spending cuts from all departments.

The representatives of UC faculty, nurses at university hospitals, secretaries and janitors point out that their workers have never been offered anything close to a 17 percent annual raise. The work force also has an ongoing complaint that UC is one of the very few state university systems that resists placing any employee members on the pension committee, which has recently been accused of cronyism.

Regent Chairman Richard Blum states that UC chancellors are paid an average of 33 percent less than leaders of comparable universities nationwide. Yee disagrees, saying that the regents’ formula includes only wages — not the free houses, $9,000 auto allowances, bonuses and loans that bring total compensation more in line with other major public universities.

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Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who has loudly objected to the increases in executive pay and student fees as an official state member of the UC board, also disputed that the system has any difficulty recruiting chancellors at current salary levels. He noted there are no chancellor vacancies at any of the 10 UC campuses and three of those chancellors were recently hired.

It seems an almost foregone conclusion that if the UC regents do not become significantly more responsive to public interest in the very near future, their arbitrary powers could soon be curtailed by state proposition ballots. For example, their 12-year appointments might be converted to shorter-term elective offices.

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