Opinion

A former UC president's incredibly tone-deaf defense of his $357,000 pension

To the editor: I work in student government, so I hear condescending remarks from university administrators regularly. Still, I haven’t heard anything like former University of California President Mark Yudof’s “that’s the way it works in the real world” to defend his $357,000 annual pension after working at UC for only seven years. (“UC is handing out generous pensions, and students are paying the price with higher tuition,” Sept. 24)

Perhaps it is so offensive because of just how inaccurate it is.

I talk to members of fee committees across the state about their ability to fund student needs (which we’re paying for). The top concern is employee compensation.

Pensions of the size earned by Yudof don’t exist in the “real world” all that much. In fact, as your article points out, they don’t exist in any size at many private institutions.

UC’s model is unsustainable. It’s time for the state’s top innovator to come up with a 21st century model for public employee salaries and benefits.

Hayden Jackson, Riverside

The writer, an undergraduate student at UC Riverside, chairs the UC Council on Student Fees.

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To the editor: Your article downplays some important contextual information about the difficulty of providing students with a top-flight public education, attracting excellent faculty and balancing budgetary priorities at the university, the state’s third-largest employer.

UC has enacted extensive pension reforms that will reduce its long-term pension cost structure by 16% and annually save $99 million over 15 years. Unlike California’s other public institutions of higher education, and with the exception of a $145-million infusion in each of the past three years, the state does not fund UC’s pension plan.

Because of internal reforms, our pension funding status was 83% as of July 2016, considerably higher than both CalSTRS and CalPERS, the two largest state employee retirement funds. Baby boomers retiring in large numbers, with an average 30 years of service, is not a surprise to UC, and we have accounted for it.

Nathan Brostrom, Oakland

The writer is UC’s chief financial officer.

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To the editor: No contributions to the retirement system made by UC or its employees for 20 years? Where were the regents or state elected officials?

Did even one faculty member from the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley or the Luskin School of Public Affairs at UCLA, or the dozens of stellar faculty members in economics or business administration throughout UC, blow the whistle on this?

Full disclosure: I receive a pension from service to the city of San Diego, but I contributed about 10% of my salary every year while employed. Most (if not all) other public employees in California did not receive a 20-year “holiday” from making contributions to our retirement.

Bruce Johnson, San Diego

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To the editor: Two scholars, Dr. X and Dr. Y, complete their degrees the same year at Harvard. Dr. X takes a job at an elite private university. Dr. Y takes a job at a UC campus. Both go on to brilliant careers.

Dr. X’s university has no pension plan, but it opens a stock fund for its employees, and both the university and the employees contribute to it. Employees can do this easily because the salaries are very high. Moreover, Dr. X lives in a subsidized apartment and her kids have their college tuition paid for by her employer.

Dr. Y also becomes a famous scholar and is recruited by many other universities. However, she loves UC — the creativity of the campus community, the mission of public education, the extraordinary students. She has trouble saving because salaries in her field are much lower at UC than other elite schools. She has to take out loans for her kids’ education.

When she retires, she doesn’t have much besides her UC pension. But she gets an added bonus — she gets to be insulted by The Times (“six-figure pensions”!). Not to worry, though — the next generation’s Dr. Y will not bother to come West.

Timothy Hampton, Kensington, Calif.

The writer is a professor of French and comparative literature at UC Berkeley.

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