Should CSU Presidents Prosper While the Buck Is Passed to Students?

11:45am | Admittedly, my headline is a bit inflammatory. But sometimes the truth inflames. And while for all I know it really is in the best interests of the California State University for the Board of Trustees to give university presidents the maximum possible raises -- something it did for two presidents Tuesday -- the reality is that such moves come in the midst of student opportunities becoming ever more limited, whether by way of tuition hikes or enrollment restrictions.

Mildred Garcia, who has gone from president of CSU Dominguez Hills to president of CSU Fullerton, was just voted a base salary of $324,500 to go along with free housing and a $12,000 annual car allowance -- all of which amount to a 10% bump over the compensation given to outgoing CSUF President Milton Gordon's salary. CSU East Bay President Leroy Morishita is getting an identical bump, which amount to $303,660 base pay, as well as $60,000/year for housing and that $12,000/year car allowance.

"I'm only sorry that we can't pay them more because of the policy that we adopted," said Trustee Roberta Achtenberg, referring to the policy the Board adopted in two month ago (presumably in response to an outcry over the 25% raise given to Elliot Hirshman, president of San Diego State University, who is now making well over $400,000 per year).

The argument is that such pay raises are necessary for the CSU system to remain competitive with other universities around the country. However, according to Lillian Tiaz, president of the California Faculty Association (an organization whose members are not getting pay raises), "In all honesty, if you have to pay through the nose to bring a president in, they're not right for our public university. This is public service."

I don't necessarily question the importance of having good university president. However, ostensibly a university's primary purpose is to educate students. A less commonly understood, but not necessarily less important, function of universities is to conduct research.

But as far as I can tell, a president is only of ancillary benefit to each of these practices. And so it is hard for me to support the logic of a fiscal policy that increases the pay for administrators while simultaneously making moves that reduce its ability to do the jobs that constitute its raison d'ĂȘtre. If things are tough all over, shouldn't the weight of the burden be distributed as equally as possible?

That is, unfortunately, not the American way. Capitalism as practiced in the United States is a corporate culture, with a modus operandi of rewarding the people at the top without regard to what is happening down below.

To say that now is not the time to raise Garcia's and Morishita's pay is not a comment on the merits of each individual, nor of the value of a university president; it is, rather, a comment on the financial condition of the CSU system.

Presumably the Board of Trustees considered this angle -- and rejected it. But one has to wonder if it is really the case that it would have been impossible to get suitable candidates -- perhaps even these same candidates -- for the $300,000+ per year that the new presidents would have been making if the Board had supported a wage freeze due to the financial emergency the CSU system is enduring. After all, anyone who can't balance his or her personal budget so that $300,000 a year is enough on which to live comfortably is probably not the sort of person we ought to put in charge of one of our higher institutions of learning.

On that note, I can't help wondering if Garcia, Morishita, or any of the other university presidents who have gotten raises during this budgetary crisis ever thought to turn them down. I know that is a very un-capitalist suggestion, but I'd like to think that a good leader desires to share the burdens borne by those under his/her leadership.

In the case of university presidents, that burden-sharing would be largely symbolic, since, again, these leaders would still be making over $300,000 per year. But I've no doubt it's a gesture that would resonate with the student body.

As it stands, CSU students -- and faculty -- are receiving a very different message.

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