The CSU Board of Trustees recently and inadvertently rankled some students, faculty and employee union members by approving a 13.7 percent salary increase and increases in housing and car allowances for CSU executives and presidents at the same time student fees were increased by 8 percent.
Many students, faculty and staff members expressed anger over the fee increases and what is described as deficient compensation for faculty while administrative and CSU board members described the decision to raise fees as being out of their hands. The increases were passed at the board’s Oct. 27 meeting in Long Beach.
CSUN president Jolene Koester said that despite appearances, the trustees were obligated by time constrictions to carry out the decisions about student fees and salary increases during the same meeting.
She said that in order for the board’s 2006-07 budget to be considered at the state level at the beginning of 2006, it must meet and vote on issues at this time in the year.
“The trustees are locked into that calendar,” she said.
Colleen Bentley-Adler, CSU spokesperson, had a similar opinion about the schedule.
“You can’t tie them together,” she said regarding the fee increases and the executive and presidents’ salary increases being approved at the same meeting. “This always takes place in October.”
Koester received one of the largest raises, 22.9 percent, which according to Bentley-Adler is due to her outstanding performance as a university president since she began her presidency at CSUN. Her annual salary will increase from $207,444 to $255,024.
“Since she’s been there, she’s done a terrific job with outreach to the community, fundraising, academics, (and) increasing the graduation rate,” Bentley-Adler said. “She’s been an all-around superb president.”
“I don’t begrudge the president (for) her raise, but I question (CSU Chancellor Charles Reed’s) wisdom at granting such large increases on the back of student fee increases,” said James David Ballard, president of the CSUN chapter of California Faculty Association. “Faculty just received a 3.5 percent raise after several years with no pay increases. So clearly, the faculty may have an issue with the size of (the presidents’ and executives’) increase.”
For some critics, the timing of the raises was significant.
“In politics, perception is important,” said John Travis, statewide CFA president. “This showed the contempt that the Board of Trustees feels for most of the employees, including the faculty.”
Koester and Bentley-Adler said the presidents’ and executives’ salary increases were part of a five-year program to close the “CPEC gap” between all CSU employees and their counterparts at “comparable institutions” nationwide.
According to the board of Trustee’s Committee on University and Faculty Personnel, the California Postsecondary Education Commission, or CPEC, found that there is on average a 49.5 percent lag between CSU presidents and presidents at comparable institutions nationwide, and a 13.1 percent lag for CSU faculty.
The board approved 13.7 and 3.5 percent raises for presidents and faculty respectively, and both raises are proportionately the same in that they close the CPEC gap by between 3.6 percent and 3.7 percent. The board is aiming to close the gap entirely within five years for all CSU employees, according to Koester.
Koester said the salary increase for executives is a small part of the larger plan to elevate all CSU employee salaries, and that student fees are only one part of the revenue the CSU system receives in order to operate. She also said a portion of the student fee increase will go toward increasing financial aid and shielding a large number of students from tuition in the form of grants and scholarships.
Many faculty, staff and students, however, are angry at a double-digit raise for the system’s seemingly most well off, while student fees continue to rise and faculty members’ salaries remain often too low to live in the same neighborhoods as the areas in which they teach.
“The board tried to compare and said that there was a similar attempt to address the CPEC gap for executives and teachers,” Travis said. “But the truth is the salary increase that the executives got will help them keep up with other institutions, but for faculty, we’ll probably be in about the same place.”
Travis said faculty and staff members are not provided with housing and car allowances like executives and presidents, and many feel under pressure because of their relatively low wages and the high cost of living.
“The housing allowances that they provide (for presidents and executives) are more than the typical assistant professor earns annually when he starts at the CSU,” Travis said. “Junior faculty are feeling the same pressures as far as housing and cost of living.”
“Nothing is being done for faculty, but they certainly addressed that issue with the presidents and executives,” he said.
Ballard said he believes the Board of Trustees is not asking the state for the necessary funds to run the CSU system.
“They are not fulfilling their duties to the citizens of California,” he said. “Both are relying on the most vulnerable, the students, to make up the difference.”
“The CSU system is supposed to be state sponsored, but they keep turning to the students for more and more money and it’s not fair,” said Mona Mohammadi, CSU Fullerton student and vice chair of external affairs for the California State Students Association.
“It goes against the CSU mission statement,” she said, referring to the mission that extols extending an opportunity for higher education to anyone who is “prepared for and (wishes) to participate in collegiate study.”
Trustee William Hauck said that asking the state for more money while it is $6 billion in debt is not feasible.
“The competition for state general fund dollars is ferocious,” he said. “We are getting more money, but we still have a year or two to go to make up for what was cut. It’s easy to say, ‘Go get more money,’ but it’s a whole lot harder to answer the question, ‘Where’s it going to come from?’ If the state gives (the CSU) more, it has to take money away from other programs.”
Hauck said that while he sympathizes with CSU students’ plight, the system competes with the likes of state-funded welfare and K-12 education programs.
“What really dictates student fees is the level of funding from the state of California, and over the last three years we’ve had reductions of over $500 million,” Koester said.
She said the system can be stretched only to a certain point, and that there is a difficult balance between maintaining quality and simultaneously keeping the institutions accessible.
“Even with the fee increases proposed for the 2006-07 year, students in the Cal State system will continue to pay less than a third of the cost” of educating them, she said. “So the state of California is still making a big investment.”
The total average cost of educating one student in the CSU is $11,246, and the fees for next year will average to $3,368, according to John Chandler, CSUN spokesperson.
Ballard said students’ cost concerns do not stop with tuition.
“It’s not just tuition, it’s the cost of going to school,” he said. “It’s the cost of housing, books, insurance, transportation, everything a student encounters. We’re talking thousands of dollars extra.”
Some believe the fiscal crunch has already had a direct effect on CSU professors.
“The state budget is in a sorry place, and the consequence is that something’s got to give,” said Matthew Cahn, professor and chair of the Political Science Department. “Faculty salaries have effectively not moved for a long time, and this year’s 3.5 percent (faculty pay) increase doesn’t even make up for inflation. The university is literally losing faculty over money, because new faculty who are coming in are not able to a
fford housing. It is a problem.”
While there is no simple solution to the problem, Cahn said that all in all, the state of California is lucky to have two of the most important university systems in the world.
The future funding of these institutions, however, remains somewhat unpredictable.
Cahn said many of the revenue issues could be traced back to 1978’s voter-approved Proposition 13, without which many businesses and property owners would be paying higher taxes into the state resource pool.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “We’re in a pickle.”
Bethania Palma can be reached at email@example.com.