As chairman of the governing board of the California State University system, Herbert L. Carter has positioned himself as a consensus builder at a time when the system has been battered as never before by budget cuts, student protests and discord over salary and hiring policies.
The former president of the United Way and chairman of the Los Angeles Commission on Human Relations has spent decades attempting to forge compromise with differing factions. But now he is struggling to bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature to win a second term on the Board of Trustees.
Senate Republicans have signaled that they will block the confirmation, citing Carter's role in controversial decisions last year to increase executive pay while also boosting student tuition.
Democrats see the opposition as partisan posturing having little to do with those actions. Although Democrats control both legislative houses, Republicans have leverage in this fight: nominations to the Cal State board are among the few that require a two-thirds majority, meaning at least two Republican votes are needed.
A decision must be made by Monday, the last Senate floor session before the confirmation deadline on Wednesday.
"Since 1984, Herbert Carter has been near the center of every CSU pay hike scandal," Anderson wrote. "The CSU trustees don't seem to understand that their 'compromise' of setting a CSU's president's pay at $325,000 is insulting to California students, parents, and taxpayers."
Anderson referred to the board's recent action — proposed by Carter — to cap the pay of new executives at 10% above that of their predecessor, with a limit of $325,000 in public funds.
Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said that Carter "has a long and distinguished record of service and commitment to higher education and he deserves the consideration and support of all senators, regardless of party affiliation."
Speaking to reporters on Friday in Washington, D.C., the governor said Republicans "get a little petty. They don't have much power left, so if they can take a shot they will."
Carter, 78, one of the few board members with an extensive education background, was appointed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the 25-member panel in 2004. Carter declined a request to be interviewed.
He became chairman in 2009, presiding over a system that has suffered devastating budget cuts and imposed steep tuition increases — from $2,334 in 2004 to $5,472 this academic year for undergraduates.
A board meeting in November at which trustees approved another 9% fee hike for fall 2012 was marked by violent disruptions. Trustees were criticized for leaving the session and reconvening in another room with no members of the public present. That followed a public outcry over the $400,000 salary — $100,000 more than his predecessor — awarded last summer to San Diego State President Elliot Hirshman.
Criticism of those actions, though, was led by Democrats including Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) and Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), all of whom crafted legislation to limit pay for campus presidents. Gov. Jerry Brown also wrote a scathing letter to Carter criticizing the moves.
Republicans cited Brown's letter about the pay packages and said the issue had not been adequately resolved.
"If they were consistent they would stand with us," Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) said of his Democratic colleagues. "I'm going to oppose any of these trustees that come up for confirmation who voted for pay increases during these tough economic times. I would be shocked if some of these Democrats don't join us in opposing this appointment."
Lieu, however, supports Carter and accused Republicans of politicizing the appointment.
"He is the kind of trustee that you want — someone who will respond to what students, faculty and legislators say to him — and it would be a shame if he is not reconfirmed," Lieu said.
Carter was raised in Arkansas and received a bachelor's degree at the University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff, and a doctorate in public administration at USC. He was executive director of the Los Angeles Commission on Human Relations in the late 1960s, and president and chief executive of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles in the 1990s. He served in several academic posts in the Cal State system, including affirmative action officer, executive vice chancellor for administration and acting president of Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Those who have known or worked with Carter describe him as fair-minded and decent, an unlikely figure to have become a political foil in the rough and tumble jousting of state politics. While he presides over the sometimes contentious bi-monthly meeting of trustees in Long Beach, much of the ire over fee hikes and salary disputes has been aimed at Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed.
San Francisco State President Robert Corrigan said Carter has been an effective advocate for students and the university.
"The heart of the matter is that he has only the best interests of the university in mind," said Corrigan, who is retiring at the end of the school year after 24 years as president. "He speaks eloquently about the needs of students, he is open and fair in meetings and I think we will be weakened if we do in fact lose him as a member of board …It's not good for the campuses, not good for students and frankly, unfair to Herb."
As a trustee, Carter has sought student input and often seeks the middle ground on difficult issues, said Gregory Washington, a Cal State Fullerton student and president of the Cal State Student Assn.
"He has always seen students as an ally that can work with CSU and not as opponents," Washington said. "He was also a leader of civil rights in higher education and he offers the voice of compromise a lot of the time."