Campus Pay Is Radioactive For CSU

Pay raises for campus presidents are touchy, with taxes on the fall ballot.

CSU Trustees FOR WEB

In a web video released this week by his campaign advisors, Gov. Jerry Brown says, "We simply have to take a stand against further budget cuts" that have hit education hard in recent years.

It's a strong argument, no doubt the most effective argument the governor could make in attempting to sell his package of temporary income and sales taxes on the November ballot.

But the governor's sales job just got a lot harder.

On Tuesday, the California State University's trustees were poised to approve a round of salary increases for three new campus presidents. Also up for discussion, how to make $250 million in "trigger cuts" should voters reject the governor's tax plan.

Guess which issue resonates with voters?

The pay increases send a message that campus executives don't have to face the same belt-tightening as faculty and students.

Granted, CSU adopted new rules in the spring calling for new campus presidents to be paid the same as their predecessors.

But they're getting around that rule by agreeing to supplement a president's salary with privately-raised foundation money.

Under that arrangement, Cal State Northridge's new president will get a nearly $30,000 increase on top of her $295,000 salary. Similar arrangements were worked out for the new bosses of San Francisco State and Cal State San Bernardino.

In the face of that, the university system is preparing a series of spending cuts that would go into effect should the governor's tax plan fail.

Some make sense, such as charging students a premium for multiple course repeats.

As the staff analysis notes, "over 40,000 seats in state-supported classes are being takenby students who already have taken the course at least once, on the CSU's state-assisted 'dime'."

Other cuts just increase the growing burden on students by raising tuition or cutting enrollment.

But the university is engaging in some bad campaign optics here, telling voters that cuts are looming without a tax increase, while at the same time campus executives are pocketing a bigger paycheck. It will hardly matter to those voters that the pay raise is coming from private sources, and not from the public trough.

Author Kevin Riggs, an Emmy-winning former TV reporter in Sacramento, is Senior Vice President at Randle Communications.

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