UC Regents Lean Toward More Open Meetings

TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

In the wake of last month's furor over UC President David Gardner's retirement package, the UC Board of Regents is moving toward more public scrutiny of salaries and perquisites for top university administrators.

Most future discussions of UC executives' compensation would be conducted in public sessions, and decisions of any closed-door meetings on such issues would be "fully and clearly" disclosed, according to a policy proposal released Thursday. The proposal is expected to be adopted at the regents' meeting in San Francisco next Thursday and Friday.

The plan is a response to the negative publicity surrounding the regents' initially secretive handling of Gardner's retirement package. Transcripts of a closed-door March meeting showed that regents sought to avoid press and legislative scrutiny of their actions, which resulted in Gardner receiving $857,000 in deferred compensation and supplemental funds and an increase in his expected annual pension from $104,000 to $126,000.

The regents at first issued a purposefully vague announcement about their moves benefiting Gardner. A dissident regent, Jeremiah F. Hallisey, later revealed details, sparking a crisis. On April 21, with the support of Gov. Pete Wilson and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, the regents reaffirmed the package, saying it was legitimately due Gardner, but they promised to act more openly on such matters in the future.

"Virtually anything would be an improvement over our previous procedures," Hallisey said.

Meredith J. Khachigian, the regents' chairwoman, said salary negotiations with prospective UC executives would remain private but the results would be reported publicly. "I think every issue will be looked at to see if there is any reason why it should not be moved into an open session," she said Thursday.

Because it has constitutional independence, the Board of Regents was able in the past to avoid standards for open public meetings required of other state bodies. The controversy over Gardner also shed light on other past actions of the board, including giving the 21 top UC administrators annual deferred compensations that equal 25% of their salaries.

Last month, Ronald W. Brady, UC's senior vice president for administration, conceded those separate and less-publicized bonuses were given because direct salary increases were not thought to be politically prudent.

Under the proposed rules, any future exemptions to policies on housing aid for executives, severance pay and other perquisites would have to be made by the full board, not by committee chairmen, as currently allowed. In addition, annual reports about compensation would be made to the Legislature and the California Postsecondary Education Commission.

In other business next week, the regents are expected to discuss a moneymaking plan that would make it much harder for out-of state students to qualify for the low fees that California students pay. Next fall, undergraduates who are from California will pay, on average, $3,036 in annual fees, not including room and board, compared with $10,735 for non-Californians.

The change would affect new undergraduates next fall, not current students. To qualify under the proposal, young people would have to show they have been financially independent of their parents for two years, have earned at least $4,000 on their own in the past year, and then establish residency over an additional year. Currently, financial independence is not required and many students easily qualify by registering to vote in California.

About 8% of new UC undergraduates come from out of state, of whom about 40% are able to qualify for in-state fees after a year. A UC spokesman said he didn't know how much money the proposed rule would raise, but "it will have an impact on the long-term financial health of the university." UC Student Assn. leaders, who oppose the proposed change, said the university expects the move will raise $6 million a year.

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