Senator’s bill would cap CSU presidents’ salaries

Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle Jan. 5, 2012.

By Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer

The salaries of California State University campus presidents would be capped, and discussions about their pay would be held in public, under a bill being proposed by a state senator frustrated that CSU has been raising executive pay as well as tuition.

The proposal comes months after CSU trustees hired a campus president in San Diego for $400,000 a year – $100,000 more than his predecessor – and at the same meeting that they approved a 12 percent tuition increase.

“It is not reasonable to give $100,000 raises to executive positions, especially when simultaneously raising tuition,” said state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance (Los Angeles County), author of SB755.

Under the bill, no new campus president could be paid more than 150 percent of whatever the chief justice of the California Supreme Court makes. The current chief justice, Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye, earns $228,856. That means future CSU campus presidents could make up to $343,269.

Three campus presidents are now paid more than the proposed limit of $343,269, including San Jose State University President Mo Qayoumi, whose salary is $353,200.

The bill also would prohibit presidential pay raises or bonuses if a tuition increase is pending or was imposed in the two previous years. For CSU, that would have meant no raises at all during the past decade because tuition rose every year.

A third provision would prevent discussions of presidential salaries from being conducted in private, a feature prompted by a judge’s ruling in October that CSU trustees acted within the law when they publicly announced a president’s new salary but discussed the details in private. Faculty members had sued, saying the trustees had violated state open meeting laws by deciding in private to pay Jeffrey Armstrong, the new president of California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, more than the maximum published amount for the position.

Finally, when hiring a campus president, the trustees would have to first consider CSU employees, then look among California residents before considering applicants from out of state.

Lieu’s bill comes as CSU has lost $750 million in state funding this fiscal year. The system also needs to hire six campus presidents.

In all, there are 23 campus presidents. Three are retiring, including Robert Corrigan of San Francisco State University, as well as presidents of the San Bernardino and Maritime campuses. Another three campuses – East Bay, Fullerton and Northridge – have interim presidents.

Lieu is presenting his bill as a common-sense approach in tough economic times.

But CSU officials see it as an unwarranted intrusion on their authority.

“Setting the pay of the presidents is the responsibility of the Board of Trustees in consultation with (Chancellor Charles Reed), and that is where the fiduciary responsibility should remain,” said Claudia Keith, a spokeswoman for CSU.

CSU officials also want the flexibility to hire whomever they want to lead their campuses.

“We need to be able to recruit nationally to get the type of leaders campuses need and want for our institutions,” Keith said.

Even so, she said, nine of the 23 campus presidents were promoted from within the university.

As to the requirement that salary discussions take place in public, Keith said the trustees never approve salaries or raise tuition without an open session of the board.

Keith added that no CSU president has received a raise since 2007, “and we don’t have a bonus system.”

The incident that prompted Lieu to introduce SB755, he said, was the announcement in July that Elliot Hirshman, incoming president of CSU San Diego, would be paid $400,000 a year when his predecessor made $299,435.

The decision, announced the same day that the trustees raised student tuition, prompted a scathing letter from Gov. Jerry Brown.

“The assumption is that you cannot find a qualified man or woman to lead the university unless paid twice that of the chief justice of the United States,” Brown wrote. “I reject this notion.”

E-mail Nanette Asimov at

This article appeared on page C Р2 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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