Kim A. Wilcox, a former top official at Michigan State University, was appointed as the ninth chancellor of UC Riverside at a special meeting of the UC Board of Regents on Thursday.
The board voted unanimously for the appointment, with regents praising Wilcox’s commitment to top-tier research and student diversity.
But his compensation of $354,000 drew strong objections from Gov. Jerry Brown, who questioned the propriety of such a salary when so many in California and elsewhere are struggling. It represents a $29,000 — or nearly 9% — pay raise over the salary received by the previous chancellor, Timothy P. White, who left in 2012 to head the California State University system.
That the difference will come from private funds and not state coffers did not sway the governor.
“I consider the growth in inequality in California, the U.S. and the world in general a problem that is tearing apart the social fabric,” said Brown, who did not attend the session in Riverside but joined in a telephone conference call. “My goal is to slow down or change that. I have no particular proposal for the university … but I do want to register my objection. It’s nothing personal with the candidate.”
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and regent Norman J. Pattiz joined Brown in voting against the compensation. Wilcox will also receive an annual $8,916 car allowance and a campus residence that is maintained with non-state funds.
In November, Brown also voted against the salary of the new UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks, whose pay of $486,000 represented a $50,000 — or 11.4% — increase over that earned by the previous campus head, Robert J. Birgeneau.
UC President Mark G. Yudof defended the salaries, arguing that UC executives are underpaid compared to their peers.
“It’s a philosophical disagreement,” said Yudof, who is retiring in September and will be succeeded by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. “In my world, elementary school teachers should be paid more than baseball players. But we live in a world of markets ... and it would be unreasonable to expect people to work way below market to the point we have trouble recruiting.”
Yudof described Wilcox as an energetic, visionary leader who would also be closely involved in the day-to-day workings of the 22,000-student campus.
Wilcox, 59, was provost of Michigan State from 2005 to July 2013, overseeing more than 200 academic programs and 49,000 students. He led a capital campaign that raised $1.4 billion and helped to increase the numbers of students from underrepresented groups, as well as the graduation rate.
Before stepping down, he had been on leave from Michigan State since early 2013, serving in Washington, D.C., with the nonprofit Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa.
An expert in speech and hearing disorders, he comes to UC Riverside after being among the finalists to become chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, president of the University of Wyoming and head of the University of Hawaii-Manoa.
Wilcox described the Riverside campus as a great research university that had also managed to establish a culture of access for low-income, minority and other underrepresented students.
Much focus will be on a new medical school that will train doctors in community hospitals and a recently announced school of public policy, but he said he will also push for new ways to promote student research and a capital campaign to increase fundraising.
“UC Riverside is a perfect blend of a university community striving to be greater in the future,” Wilcox said. He is scheduled to assume the post Aug. 19.