At the California State University Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 27, the board approved a proposed 2006-07 budget for the 23-campus system.
As part of that budget, student fees will increase for the umpteenth time in a row, this time by 8 percent for undergraduates and 10 percent for graduate students.
Also part of the 2006-07 budget are nominal salary increases for a slew of CSU employees, based upon a five-year CSU plan to close employee salary gaps.
The California Faculty Association and other CSU employee unions are continuing negotiations, and a 3.5 percent general salary increase is what professors and staffers have been offered. That raise is a good start, but is still less than the current rate of inflation.
What has irked a lot of CSU employees, however, was the announcement that CSU executives and university presidents would be receiving a double-digit salary increase as part of that same 2006-07 proposed budget. On average, those high-ranking employees will receive a 13.6 percent raise next year, equating to between $30,000 and $50,000 for university presidents and almost $50,000 for CSU Chancellor Charles Reed.
CSUN President Jolene Koester received a larger than average salary increase, almost 23 percent, or $47,580, pushing her salary up to $255,024. As Monday’s Daily Sundial reported, a CSU spokesperson said this above-average raise was a result of Koester’s above-average work at CSUN. Koester and others rationalized these executives’ and presidents’ pay hikes by citing a CSU push to close salary gaps between the system and comparable universities across the country. How can these executives and presidents be expected to stay in the system if their salaries are dwarfed just across the Nevada border?
Obviously, this double-digit pay raise is a poorly timed public relations disaster for the CSU system, its executives, its presidents, and Koester herself. From an objective standpoint, it is not difficult to identify the faux pas in raising student fees yet again, citing tied hands and an inability to find funding anywhere else, and then minutes later raise salaries for the highest-ranking employees by some crazily disproportionate percentage.
But besides the poor timing, which we can grant Koester and others have no control of because of strict budgetary timetables, there is the principle of leadership at stake that CSU officials just do not seem to grasp. Coming out of one side of their mouth is the promise that a nominal 3.5 percent raise for professors is all they can afford from the budget, when there is obviously a couple hundred thousand dollars floating around somewhere that just got doled out to people who undoubtedly need it the least.
We hope that Koester hesitated, or maybe flinched, when she was given word that a 22.9 percent raise was coming her way. We hope that, as a leader, she considered for a moment not accepting the raise and telling CSU officials to stick it back in the General Fund. We hope that, as a leader, she considered denying the raise, but had to accept it.
Imagine the response on campus from students, professors and staffers were she to deny such a huge salary boost. She could have had carte blanche on this campus for years, with the high-fiving faculty union and Associated Students at her beck and call. But now we are back to square one – executives versus the stragglers. Predictability kills.
And square one is where we are going to stay for a while. If the response to this double-digit pay increase will continue to be, “Well, we have to close these salary gaps, or CSU pay will no longer be competitive,” then again we need to define leadership. If the only thing keeping a CSU president at his or her respective university is money, or more money, then there is no poorer example of leadership in a fiscal crisis than that.
The next time the CSU pawns itself off as being “led by strong leaders put in an untenable position (budget shortfall),” we’ll at least know the untenable position part of that statement is true. Having our leaders, including Koester, receive such a high salary boost in the middle of a budget squeeze of this magnitude is a bad sign for the CSU system, and more common sense and leadership should have been used to avoid this from happening.
In short, we are disappointed more than anything else.