The University of California’s Board of Regents gave initial approval Thursday to a proposal to boost all employee salaries to market levels within a decade but put off a decision on the plan’s most contentious aspect, the idea of using private donations to supplement the pay of UC’s top executives.
A committee of the governing board had been scheduled to vote on the recommendation Thursday, but delayed that until at least November after several regents and faculty representatives raised concerns about using private funds to pay public employees.
UC officials say years of tight state funding have left UC salaries on average about 15% below those of comparable public and private universities, and have made it difficult to attract and keep the best professors and administrators.
The finance committee did approve two less controversial parts of the plan: the goals of raising all employee salaries to competitive levels within 10 years and adopting new guidelines for determining and setting salaries for about 800 senior managers throughout the UC system. Those proposals are expected to come before the full board in November, when the committee could again consider the private support proposal.
The procedures endorsed Thursday, if ratified by the full board, would establish many salary ranges and delegate pay decisions to campus chancellors and systemwide administrators, relieving regents of such duties. The regents still would be required to authorize salary increases for about 30 top positions, as well as any exceptionally large raises.
Supporters of the private support plan argued that UC leaders must have greater flexibility in recruiting and retaining top talent and said that many universities nationwide, including a number of public schools, have turned to such private funding.
“We are facing a massive challenge to maintain quality at the University of California and pay competitive salaries,” said Regent Judith Hopkinson, a key proponent
Under the proposal, private donations could be used to supplement funding for salaries of UC’s most highly paid executives, those making $350,000 a year or more. There are now seven such officials, including UC President Robert C. Dynes ($395,000), Provost M.R.C. Greenwood ($380,000) and UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau ($390,000); that list could be expanded to include 42 positions, including the 10 campus chancellors and some deans.
But John B. Oakley, a faculty representative who is a UC Davis law professor, said he was concerned that the use of private donations for public salaries would set a bad precedent and that it might allow outside influences.
Regent George Marcus said he worried that such a move could encourage the state to make additional cuts to the university’s funding. UC should be willing to pay such salaries from its regular public budget if such pay is necessary, he said.
Employee union leaders and students also have criticized the plan, saying that more attention should be given to lower-paid staff and to keeping fees as low as possible.
Also Thursday, the regents received an update on safeguards and security measures aimed at ending repeated scandals involving bodies donated to science at UC’s five medical schools, including an alleged body-trafficking scheme that was broken up last year at UCLA.
The reforms, some of which were announced in January, include centralized management of the university’s willed-body programs, significantly strengthened security measures and new inventory controls, including the use of radio frequency devices to track cadavers.
Cathryn L. Nation, UC’s interim vice president for health affairs, told the regents that many of the reforms have been implemented, and that a new systemwide director for the program, Brandi Schmitt, former director of the willed-body program at UC Davis, had been appointed in May.
UCLA’s program was suspended in March 2004 after authorities uncovered the allegedly illegal sale of hundreds of cadavers donated to the school. The director of the program, Henry Reid, and an associate, Keith Lewis, were placed on leave on suspicion that they had sold donated bodies for personal gain. Both denied wrongdoing and neither was charged in an ongoing investigation; Lewis died last summer. A third man, Ernest V. Nelson, was arrested in the case but not charged; he too has denied wrongdoing. UC officials said Thursday that they did not know when the UCLA program would reopen.
At a criminal court hearing this summer, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge criticized what he called the “glacial” pace of investigation in the case, and attorneys for Reid and the plaintiffs in a related civil case have questioned the ability of UCLA’s Police Department to handle the complex probe.
UCLA police officials have defended their investigation. A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said Thursday that UCLA police have yet to present the case to prosecutors.