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CSU trustees still don’t get it

California Focus

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POSTED October 30, 2012 5:37 p.m.

It became clear early last spring that the trustees of the 23-campus California State University system just don’t get it. Shuffling administrators from school to school and bringing in the occasional outsider, they began giving new college presidents salaries far higher than what predecessors had received.

The rationale for this, as it often is in government, was that CSU had to match what other potential employers were willing to pay.

Over a period of weeks, the trustees voted to pay tens of thousands more to new presidents at five campuses than chiefs of those schools had ever before received.

Bleats of protest arose because the raises were coupled with tuition increases of just under 10 percent, bringing Cal State tuition to $7,017, a 37 percent increase from the $4,440 it was in November, 2010, less than two years ago (for more details of historic Cal State tuitions, see this report: http://www.calstate.edu/Budget/fybudget/2011-2012/documentation/13-historical-suf-rates.shtml).

At about the same time, state legislators demonstrated similar insensitivity to the public mood, granting $4.6 million worth of raises to more than 1,000 of their staffers while cutting pay to most state workers, people they don’t have to see every day.

The CSU trustees followed that with a four-year labor contract with professors providing them with no pay raises at all. Then CSU followed that with a move opening graduate programs next spring on 10 campuses to qualified out-of-state students who pay high tuition while keeping them closed for in-staters who pay less. Is it any wonder Californians raise the question of just who the state’s higher education system now exists to serve?

To many students, who face increasing difficulties getting into classes needed to complete their degrees, it made no sense to grant large raises to college presidents at the same time new enrollments are dropping, tuition is climbing and educational opportunities for Californians are diminishing. As for the issue of needing to match what other employers might pay, some students asked the logical question: In this economy, what other employers?

The trustees’ response has been to limit raises for top administrators to no more than 10 percent per year, and to draw some funds for that from semi-independent campus foundations.

These actions spurred further howls and head-scratching. One reader of this column, a professor at Cal Poly Pomona, reacted this way to the hiring of new CS San Bernardino President Tomas Morales: “Given his circumstances (in his old job heading the College of Staten Island, NY), it probably wasn’t necessary to raise the pay to obtain Morales’ services.” The reader noted that Morales just months before his new hire received of a no-confidence vote from his former school’s faculty senate. The resolution said Morales “failed to follow the spirit of shared school governance and (did not) provide leadership for…a ‘Pathways to Degree Completion’ program.” The resolution passed with 31 votes out of 54 faculty senate members, but was overturned on a procedural issue. Morales accepted his lucrative new job before another vote could occur.

The reader is probably right. Someone essentially ridden out of town on a rail probably doesn’t need a raise to convince him to move. That did not deter the trustees. How many of their other hires were eagerly pursued by other suitors?

The famously dysfunctional Legislature’s granting raises to its pet employees, many already paid well into six figures, also seemed deaf and blind to the public mood.

Here’s a hint to legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown: It probably doesn’t promote passage of Proposition 30, the governor’s tax increase initiative on the ballot this fall, when you display obvious favoritism.

Opponents like Lewis Uhler, head of the California-based National Tax Limitation Committee, quickly labeled the move “an outrage.” It also rankled public employee union leaders who usually bankroll the campaigns of the Democrats who control the Legislature. Most of those unions have agreed to pay cuts to help preserve jobs while the state faces its seemingly perpetual budget crunch.

All of which demonstrates that once folks are in an office with a definite term, whether appointed or elected, it’s easy for them to lose sight of financial realities.

So far, there are no signs that either the Cal State trustees or the legislative majority will pay any immediate political price for their insensitivity. But both groups can be sure there will be consequences down the line if they don’t soon begin displaying far more sensitivity to the public mood and prevailing economic conditions.

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