Even as they dealt with student protests over economic inequities and rising tuition costs, the University of California regents this week approved salary raises of between 6.4% and 23% for 12 highly ranked administrators and attorneys, most of whom now earn more than $200,000 a year.
The action has renewed debate about the university’s efforts to retain what it describes as important talent while it seeks more state funding and considers further fee increases. Coming as Occupy protests disrupted the regents meeting, the raises struck some critics of UC as inappropriate and likely to anger taxpayers and legislators.
The dozen new base salaries range from $165,000 for a UC Santa Cruz dean to $553,500 for Vincent L. Johnson, chief operating officer for UC Davis hospital and health system. Johnson’s raise, funded by medical center revenue and not state funds, partly countered a much higher offer he reportedly received from another hospital. Other raises came in response to expanded job responsibilities and to surveys showing that UC often pays below national averages for similar jobs, officials said.
UC President Mark. G. Yudof and other UC leaders defended the raises, saying that even during an economic crisis the 10-campus university system with 180,000 employees needs to retain and recruit top staff and faculty. The increases avoid higher replacement salaries in a competitive marketplace and the costs of lost expertise, they said.
“These retention efforts are critical. We don’t do them lightly and we do not do them often,” Yudof said. UC campuses sent him 20 other requests for increases but those were denied even though Yudof deemed them deserving, and they did not come before regents this week.
The only regent to vote against the raises was Eddie Island, who did not respond to messages seeking comment. Island voted against a small round of similar raises and bonuses in September and said at the time: “I don’t think we can afford to chase market salaries.”
UC student regent Alfredo Mireles Jr., who also opposed the September raises, said he would have done the same this week if he had not been talking with student protesters during the vote at the chaotic Monday meeting. “Like a lot of people, I think that it is really bad form to give executive raises when we are cutting everything else,” he said.
Mireles, a UC San Francisco graduate student, said, however, that he was somewhat sympathetic to Joseph Castro, UC San Francisco’s vice chancellor for student affairs whose salary temporarily will rise 7.5%, to $252,625, while he also takes on duties as interim graduate dean.
William G. Tierney, director of USC’s Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis, said the regents’ move was tone deaf although their motivation was to protect the quality of the system. “It is impossible to communicate that in a positive way even if it has good intentions,” Tierney said. “At a time when people are unemployed and not willing to raise taxes, to do this continuously is a mistaken strategy.” Plus, he said there was no evidence that many academics quit if they don’t receive market-level pay or that replacements would not work for current salaries.
Three of the raises were for 9.9%: meaning a new $246,835 base salary for Wendell C. Brase, UC Irvine vice chancellor of administrative and business services; $247,275 for Meredith Michaels, UC Irvine vice chancellor of planning and budget; and $316,842 for Steven A. Olsen, UCLA vice chancellor for budgetary and finance matters whose job is changing to vice chancellor and chief financial officer. At UC Santa Cruz, Lynda Rogers will get a 13.8% increase, to $165,000, with her appointment as university extension dean, a job she had held on an interim basis. The chief counsels at the San Francisco, Riverside, Davis, Irvine, San Diego and Santa Cruz campuses got raises from 6.4% to 21.9%, with new salaries from $215,000 to $255,000. UC attorneys have taken on additional work recently since the university reduced contracts with outside law firms, a change that administrators said saved millions.
The regents move came as trustees for the Cal State system canceled a meeting next week on compensation for its presidents, citing concerns about protests and safety. A trustees’ committee had been scheduled to review pay policies, which was criticized this summer after the new president of San Diego State was awarded a $400,000 salary — $100,000 more than his predecessor.