The board of the nation's largest public university system approved a 2.5% salary increase for Chancellor Timothy P. White, six vice chancellors and the system's campus presidents.
White's salary, with the 2.5% increase, totals $450,345. Cal State campus president salaries now range from $274,601 at the Maritime Academy to $428,645 at San Diego State.
Sally Roush, who was appointed interim president of San Diego State in the spring, did not get an increase.
Numerous members of the California State University Employees Union, who have been in contract negotiations since January, expressed their frustrations during the public comment period.
"Please invest in your … staff, the people that keep the lights on," said Rich McGee, a programmer at Cal State San Bernardino, who said the salaries of his peers are below market. "You need us, and the students depend on us."
Others brought up the projected budget shortfall for next year broached by the trustees the day before. Some employees also mentioned a state audit released in April that raised concerns about budget oversight and transparency and found that Cal State has been hiring managers and providing them raises at a rate that "significantly outpaced" other employees.
Administrators have long argued that restricting compensation for its top officials puts the system at a competitive disadvantage.
"Attracting, recruiting and retaining quality leadership at the CSU is of significant importance to us," White told the trustees. "The leadership of our campuses and the executive office is critical to the overall success of our students and the university."
Executive compensation has been a thorny issue in the past: The system took heat in 2011 when trustees approved both a $100,000 boost in pay for the incoming San Diego State president and a 12% tuition hike. The following year, Cal State froze compensation paid with state funds while allowing increases of up to 10% on compensation paid with private donations. In November 2015, to quell criticism, the trustees voted to eliminate the use of private funds to supplement salaries.
From 2010 to 2014, according to officials, executives received no salary raises. In the 2014-2015 budget year, trustees approved a 3% increase, followed by a 2% increase in 2015-2016 and a 2% increase last year.