CSU to Research Comparable Averages of University Presidents’ Salaries

Ken Scarboro

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A student dawns a chicken suit outside the Chancellor's Office in Long Beach, protesting the high pay of executives and campus president's at a board of trustees meeting Aug. 24. Photo Credit: Andrew Lopez / Online Editor

After CSU presidents’ salaries came under fire in July, the system decided to compare the 23 campuses to national universities in an effort to gauge president pay at an Aug. 24 board of trustees meeting.

At least four bills have been announced by state lawmakers that would put caps on president’s salaries since new president of San Diego State University, Elliot Hirshman was granted a  $100,000 increase in salary at a board of trustees meeting July 12, the same day they voted to raise student tuition 12 percent.

With the retirement of CSUN President Jolene Koester in December and San Francisco State University President Robert A. Corrigan by next fall, the board will work to find a balance between hiring the best for the job while also not angering the public over hefty salaries.

Putting a cap on salaries could drive away the best candidates to higher paying jobs at other institutions, Hellenbrand said. He doesn’t see how balancing the two can work.

“You can’t satisfy everybody,” he said. “It’s a no-win situation.”

CSU board of trustees will undertake a new survey, splitting the CSU system into four tiers of similarly sized campuses and comparing them to public universities outside the system.

Schools will be divided based on size, number of programs and other economic factors each CSU campus faces, Chancellor Charles Reed said at the meeting. Ten similar public universities will lay ground work for each tier to determine an average salary a president would make compared to market value.

Data collected will compare 50, 75 and 100 percent of market value salaried offered to presidents, leaving the decision up to the board of trustees to determine what is reasonable when assessing a president’s salary, the board decided at the meeting.

Diversity among the 23 campuses must be considered, said Charles Knapp, former president of the University of Georgia and current consultant for several companies.

“One size fits all will not work,” Knapp said.

A president’s job becomes increasingly complex the larger the campus and student body, Knapp said, and the more complex a campus is, the higher a president’s salary will likely be.

A balance of hiring qualified, experienced campus president’s while minimizing backlash from state legislators and the public was the goal of this meeting, Knapp said.

“I’m not going to provide you a silver bullet,” Knapp told the board.

Some presidents receive additional compensation from these campus foundations based on their success in raising funds for their university. Presidents manage the board of directors for the university foundation and coordinate events to raise funds.

Of Hirshman’s $400,000 salary, $50,000 was provided through SDSU Foundation sources, according to an Executive Compensation Salary document. Reed approached the board of directors to fund the additional pay, CSU spokesperson Liz Chapin said.

Though fundraising is a factor considered when looking for a new president, it is not reflected in their pay.

“(Presidents) are not paid more based on how much money they raise,” Chapin said. “There is no commission.”

Chirag Bhakta, a Cal State Fullerton student who attended the meeting, does not think president salaries should be based on how well they raise funds or what the national market offers.

“At the essence of it they’re public servants,” Bhakta said. “If you’re not happy with $300,000, then we don’t want you to work for us.”

Living in a competitive market society will drive up campus president’s salary costs when searching for a competent leader, however unfortunate that may be, Hellenbrand said.

“A good president can save you a lot of money,” he said. “ A bad president can lose you a lot of money.”