Salary plan for San Diego State president stirs furor


California State University is proposing to pay the new president of its San Diego campus $100,000 more annually than his predecessor, a move that is raising hackles as the university grapples with another round of student tuition hikes amid deep state funding cuts.

If the plan is approved Tuesday by the Board of Trustees, San Diego State President Elliot Hirshman would receive annual compensation of $400,000 — $350,000 from the state and an annual supplement of $50,000 from the campus’ nonprofit foundation.

The annual salary of former President Stephen L. Weber was $299,435, according to university records. Hirshman’s proposed salary is only a little shy of that of Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed, who receives $421,500 in salary, as well as $30,000 toward his retirement from the Cal State University Foundation.


Some lawmakers, students and faculty were incredulous at the salary recommendation and its timing, coming after the Legislature and governor approved a spending plan last week that cuts $650 million from Cal State, with additional reductions possible.

On the same agenda Tuesday, the university’s governing board will consider a recommendation to increase annual tuition by 12% — or an additional $294 a semester for fall 2011. That would be on top of a previously approved increase of 10%. Over the last decade tuition has tripled, to $4,884 a year for undergraduates in the university system.

“It’s outrageous,” said Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), who sits on the Assembly’s higher education committee. “At a time then they are raising student fees, it’s not acceptable. For those of us who fight for every nickel to help our kids, they make it very difficult.”

Many faculty are also concerned that the proposed compensation sends the wrong message, said Lillian Taiz, the California Faculty Assn. president.

“It is complete arrogance and tone deafness to be doing something like this while students are being knocked sideways by pretty staggering fee increases year after year,” said Taiz, a history professor at Cal State L.A. “For those of us who have been struggling and working on helping the public understand the value of higher education and investment in higher education … it doesn’t send the right message.”

The salary proposal shows that Reed and the 25-member board are out of touch with the needs of students, said Funmilola Fagbamila, who attends Cal Sate L.A. Her financial aid is threatened by budget cuts and barely covers tuition, let alone books and housing, she said.


“I think the salary they’re talking about is ridiculous,” said Fagbamila, 20, who plans to attend a protest at the trustees’ meeting. “I definitely think administrators have not shouldered their share of the cuts.”

Hirshman, who assumed the top post at San Diego State on July 1, was previously provost and senior vice president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the No. 2 position. His salary there was $267,000, according to the university.

Cal State trustees lauded his academic record and administrative experience. “Those factors along with his exciting vision for the future of San Diego State make him an excellent choice to steward the university into the next decade, “ said William Hauck, who chaired the board’s presidential search committee, after Hirshman’s May appointment.

Hirshman declined to comment.

The compensation package includes a $1,000-per-month vehicle allowance and reimbursement for moving costs as well as for expenses incurred in selling Hirshman’s Virginia residence. In San Diego, he will occupy a house provided by the university.

San Diego State, with a student population of about 35,000, is a leading research institution among Cal State’s 23 campuses and has a noted athletics program, officials said.

A study commissioned by the chancellor found that Cal State’s campus presidents are underpaid compared to their peers, receiving on average only about 52% of the pay of chief executives at similar institutions. Current presidents have not received a raise since 2007. If they had, their salaries would be more in line with Hirshman’s proposed pay, said Cal State spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp.


Also earning more than $300,000 are San Jose State President Mohammad Qayoumi at $353,200, Cal State L.A. President James Rosser at $325,000 and Cal State Long Beach President F. King Alexander at $320,329. Several Cal State presidents also receive $50,000 or $60,000 housing allowances.

The median total compensation for public college presidents in 2009-10 was $375,442, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A competitive salary and benefits are necessary to attract the best and the brightest, Uhlenkamp said.

“The chancellor and trustees on the search committee have come to the consensus that he is going to be someone who is a leader for that university and for that community,” Uhlenkamp said. “We’re not going to get people at bargain basement salaries to move across the country to fill those roles.”

Trustees also faced scrutiny in January when they agreed to pay the new president of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Jeffrey Armstrong, $350,000 in state-funded salary, plus a $30,000 annual supplement from the campus foundation. Until that point, according to a lawsuit filed by the faculty association, the salary schedule for the system’s campus presidents had ranged from $223,584 to $328,200.

The suit, filed in April, alleges that the chancellor and trustees violated California’s open-meeting laws by failing to provide public notice of the increase in the maximum salary range.


Uhlenkamp, however, said trustees effectively set the higher pay standard when they approved Armstrong’s salary, which he said was properly posted 10 days before the vote.

But the arguments ring hollow, said state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), a frequent critic of the compensation of top officials at Cal State and the University of California. He also questioned the use of foundation money to supplement salaries, arguing that these funds, typically provided by donors, should be used to help students with financial difficulties to stay in school.

“In these tough economic times,” said Yee, “top administrators should be willing to tighten their belts like everyone else.”