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Message to UC Execs: If It Won’t Look Good in the Newspaper, Don’t Do It

The University of California has been proving the Republicans’ familiar point: that tax dollars too often are wasted and abused by government.

Democrats aren’t even arguing this one. They’re equally angry at UC.

“This is a bipartisan tick-off,” says state Sen. Jack Scott (D-Altadena), chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

“I think it’s a mentality of elitism, unfortunately, in an insular world.”

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UC -- and especially its president, Robert C. Dynes -- increasingly has come under fire since November when newspapers, led by the San Francisco Chronicle, began disclosing administrative waste, abuse and secrecy.

Reporters uncovered millions in extravagant pay practices, perks and privilege for top executives.

This is more about an unacceptable principle -- drunken-sailor-like spending without disclosure to the governing UC regents -- than it is the squandered money.

“If you can’t justify it to the regents, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it,” says Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman of Irvine, a UC Berkeley alum.

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Adds Scott, repeating elementary good advice for anyone, let alone somebody entrusted with millions in tax dollars: “If it won’t look good on the front page of the newspaper, don’t do it.”

Call it a culture -- not only of elitism but also of greed and arrogance. While the university was padding pockets and providing perks for some execs, it was raising tuition regularly for students.

“I think college executives today are overpaid, but it’s done all over the country,” says Scott, a former president of Pasadena City College and Cypress College.

“It’s frankly because of the influence of the private sector, where corporate salaries have gotten out of hand. There’s a greater disparity today between average faculty salaries and president-chancellor compensation.

“There has been an inflation of executive salaries throughout America.”

The UC president is paid $405,000 -- slightly more than the U.S. president’s $400,000.

Both get a fancy house, servants, a big car and a barrel of other bennies. But that’s not in dispute here. Heads of other prestigious universities get paid even more.

What’s at issue is stuff like this dug up by reporters:

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* Provost M.R.C. Greenwood -- the No. 2 -- resigned under pressure after UC started investigating an apparent conflict of interest involving the university’s hiring of her son and a close friend/business partner. But Greenwood received a $302,000 sabbatical, plus a $152,000 teaching job.

“Outrageous,” Scott says.

* UC Davis Vice Chancellor Celeste Rose was forced to resign but was given a two-year, $205,000 annual work-at-home job with no specific duties after she threatened to file a race and gender discrimination suit. She’s African American. Lawmakers contend her deal smacked of an undisclosed out-of-court settlement.

“Two years’ pay to sit home, watch TV and do nothing,” says Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria), leading GOP critic of the UC secret deals.

* San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox was paid $248,000 by UC for a sabbatical she was owed by North Carolina State University. Also, she was allowed to serve on 10 corporate and nonprofit boards. That’s too time-consuming for a chancellor, Scott asserts.

* UC Santa Cruz spent $30,383 to build a dog run for Chancellor Denice Denton’s two border collies.

There’s a lot more -- too much for this space.

Dynes, 63, a Canadian-born physicist and former AT&T; Bell Labs exec, served as UC San Diego chancellor for seven years until he was appointed university president in 2003.

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He’s now on the spot and vulnerable.

Asked if he should be fired, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) -- an ex officio UC regent -- replied: “Well, I haven’t said it yet, but it’s at the tip of my tongue.”

“Students are getting the short end of the stick,” Nunez continued. “People teaching are getting nickel and dimed. But certain executives are getting the limousine service.

“I think the administration has so abused the trust and privilege it has been given, the regents are probably ready to pull the rug out from under the whole thing.”

Regents Chairman Gerald L. Parsky, a wealthy investor and Republican activist, says “it’s clear that UC needs stronger management experience.” But he’s not ready to push out Dynes, pending an audit of UC executive pay practices.

Parsky buys into Dynes’ contention that UC needs to pay top dollar -- including bonuses and bennies -- to compete against other universities for executive talent. But he insists that the regents be advised and even sign off on the larger compensation packages.

Two things strike me about this old competition argument: A Golden Gate view is invaluable and sure beats watching cactus grow or shoveling snow. And these execs can’t be all that talented or UC wouldn’t be in such a mess.

Scott already has held one legislative hearing where Dynes was grilled. Another is scheduled next week, when Dynes will be joined by Parsky.

Look for Parsky to distance himself from the UC president. He’ll testify that the regents already had “transparency” policies in place that should have prevented spending abuses, but Dynes and other execs ignored them.

Maldonado is fond of repeating what his farmworker dad used to tell him: “Pigs get fat and hogs go to slaughter. The bottom line is, don’t get greedy.”

Some at UC have gotten too fat. Maybe Sacramento should cut back on the feeding. Shift some tax dollars from UC to the state universities and community colleges.

*

George Skelton writes Monday and Thursday. Reach him at george.skelton@latimes.com.


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