Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Governor Defied; State College Trustees Approve Controversial $400,000 Salary

You could say so much for political power.

Trustees of the 19-campus California State University system today defied Gov. Jerry Brown and the lieutenant governor and approved a $400,000 salary for the new president of San Diego State University.

Both Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, both of whom are among the trustees, opposed the salary, although both men have remained mum on the $400,000 salary of the new chair of the California stem cell agency, who they nominated in June.

Laurel Rosenhall of The Sacramento Bee reported that Newsom noted that the increase came on the same day as undergraduate tuition was boosted $1,000 by trustees.

Rosenhall wrote,
"'I caution us today with these two decisions, and I feel compelled to make this point,' Newsom said. 'There are plenty of people watching, and people we need as supporters.'

"Newsom said he had heard from two lawmakers earlier in the day who were concerned about the proposed salary hike. One of them, state Sen. Ted Lieu, posted his thoughts on Twitter:

"'To CSU full board, let me be very clear: I will find it extremely difficult to vote to restore CSU funding if SDSU Prez salary is approved,' Lieu wrote."
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  1. Jim Fossett7:34 AM

    I'm sorry, but this is just another cheap shot by both politicians and the media. So Senator Lieu is going to take it out on 420,000 CSU students because he disapproves of how the Board of Trustees spent $50,000 in state funds out of a $794 million budget? Is that really a sensible thing to do? And should the media be encouraging him to do it?

    Readers interested in a more measured analysis of the whole problem of pay for top college administrators might want to look at a recent post on the widely read higher ed blog Inside Higher Ed (I can't post a link in the comments page, but it's easy to Google). Blaming the high cost of public colleges on administrative pay just misses the whole point--it's much easier to scapegoat one administrator or coach who makes more than you do.

  2. Re salaries and Jim's comment about being sensible, the matter is really about deep discontent among large segments of the population -- not just Tea Party types -- with the way government works. The salaries are symbols that capture part of that discontent. It is a reality that all government institutions and lawmakers must deal with. Failure to do so will lead to more voter alienation and possibly new laws that will have more impact than "cheap shots." For example, this week a Democratic state senator introduced a bill to "prohibit executive pay increases at the University of California and California State University in years when the state does not raise its allocation to the schools." Similar legislation passed the California legislature a couple of years ago but was vetoed by the former governor. It is not known whether Jerry Brown would veto such a measure. However, back in the 1970s, he nixed salary increases for state college professors, declaring that their jobs provided plenty of "psychic income."

    Here is a link a story on the salary legislation: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/07/18/BAAA1KBVD6.DTL#ixzz1SZNTZvRM

  3. Jim Fossett10:23 AM

    I'd agree that this is a political, symbolic problem that universities need to be sensitive to, particularly in tough economic times, but it's also one that politicians and the media have found all too easy to demagogue--People who write letters to the editor or post on blogs aren't usually representative of the population as a whole--they tend to be ones with an ax to grind (me included)so I'd be careful about making too much of a few intemperate blog commentators--I kinda doubt people lie awake at night grinding their teeth about the salary of the SDSU president. There is a market for college presidents, and those who have been successful, particularly at fund raising, are frequently wooed away by higher pay. Carolyn Martin, for example, just left her position as Provost at the 40,000 student main campus of the University of Wisconsin to become president of 1,600 student Amherst and very likely got a big pay increase out of it.

  4. Unhappiness about high government salaries goes well beyond a narrow group. While I can't find a recent poll on California public sector salaries, a national Kaiser Family Foundation poll this spring showed 72 percent favoring minor and major reductions in compensation and benefits for federal workers. Whether there is a market for college presidents is irrelevant to those folks. They are unhappy about their situation and what government is doing. And the unhappiness extends into liberal and Democratic circles. Seventy percent of California voters disapprove of the job their lawmakers are doing. People living in California used to love the state. Now only 42 percent say it is a nice place to live, down from more than 60 percent not too long ago. Voter alienation is the hallmark. Jerry Brown only had to win the votes of slightly more than 22 percent of all persons eligible to vote to take over the governor's job. Most potential California voters simply sat on their hands and did not vote or even bother to register. Indignation about public salaries is just one small piece of the discontent pie.

  5. Jim Fossett10:33 AM

    This is the slowest recovery since World War II, and it's perhaps understandable that many people are irate that somebody--anybody-- is making a good salary when they don't have a job.Economic discontent-and that's what it is--can translate into political discontent. It should also be noted, however, that public servants in many states, including California, have seen their pay frozen, have been assessed large increases for health insurance and pensions (which amounts to a pay cut). In case you missed it, federal pay has been frozen, and public employee unions in several states, including mine, have agreed to packages which give no raises for several years and increased employee contributions for fringe benefits. The rank and file has been pretty heavily shelled--lazy bureaucrats are just as popular a journalistic stereotype as high paid presidents. Being discontent with the operations of government is sometimes a rational thing to do, but complaining government's too big and then complaining that the parks are being closed doesn't make much sense. Journalists ought to be explaining to the public what's going on, not pandering to their prejudices.