Bill proposed to cap CSU president salaries

by Anthony Mendiola

File Photo
File Photo

Legislation is pending at the state level in the wake of multiple controversies that ensued following the simultaneous announcements of tuition increases, budgetary cuts and an increase in executive salary for new San Diego State President Elliot Hirshman at a July 2011 meeting of the California State University Board of Trustees.

A bill sponsored by State Sen. Ted Lieu, of Torrance and Long Beach, proposes to cap the salaries of CSU system presidents. Further, it would mandate that job candidates from within California be considered first and exhausted before considering out-of-state candidates.

The bill would cap presidential salaries at 150 percent of the California Supreme Court chief justice’s annual salary.

The current chief justice, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, will make a salary of $228,856 in 2012. Accordingly, that would mean CSU presidential salaries would be limited to approximately $343,269.

Opponents argue this is not in keeping with what other systems pay their university presidents. They claim subpar pay would make recruitment of the best and most able hard, if not impossible, in light of much higher pay offered by private universities and other states.

The bill also mentions nothing about University of California system reforms or limitations on pay. Critics argue any such legislation should also be directed at California’s other higher education systems, and should not single out the CSU.

California Gov. Jerry Brown responded immediately after the CSU meeting in July, condemning the trustees’ actions. The Sacramento Bee has Brown quoted as saying, “I believe on the campuses now there are many people who don’t make near that salary that should have been groomed for leadership.”

Erik Fallis, CSU media relations specialist, said the task before the Board of Trustees is “challenging.”

“SDSU has a growing reputation as a leader in research and education. It can be a real challenge to find executive talent that will be able to focus on not only attracting tens of millions of dollars for research and recruiting and at the same time guide the institution to continue to be a leader in research that SDSU is now renowned for.”

According to a letter put out by the Special Committee on Presidential Selection and Compensation in October, CSU presidents’ executive pay is 20 to 30 percent less than other presidents’ compensation.

Opponents to the bill contend that if it were to pass, it would unduly hamper the CSU system from finding the very best man or woman to lead SDSU into the future.


“Should we be able to choose a best fit for our campus or be limited in whom you look at by where they currently reside?” Fallis asked.

Critics of the proposed law say CSUs should not limit themselves to only CSU-bred job applicants in a competitive world of limited funding and resources for higher education.

“The Governor’s observation is somewhat ironic in that the CSU system is well ahead some other state systems, as far as numbers of employees from within the system who have been able to rise to high levels,” Fallis said.

He also said one-third of CSU campuses are headed by administrators who have risen through the ranks.

A brief survey of similar-sized, research-oriented institutions shows salaries vary widely for top university executives. For example, Graham Spanier, the president of Penn State who was fired in the wake of a child-coach sex scandal, was making $813,000 per year, more then double President Hirshman’s salary.

In addition, University of Oregon’s president’s annual salary is $501,233 and Kent State University’s president makes $569,000 per year, with an additional $147,000 in bonuses.

According to a new report put out by the Chancellor’s Office, “the CSU competes nationally for well-qualified individuals to serve as executives, faculty members, senior administrators, and other staff. It also competes in local markets for its employees. In some situations, the pool of well-qualified individuals is limited. The compensation program, i.e., salaries and benefits, must be able to recruit, develop, and retain the highest quality workforce to serve the interests of the CSU in fulfilling its mission in the state, nationally, and globally. It also must recognize California’s cost of living.”

The state of California has an extensive database that shows, among other things, the disparities in pay from other state systems. The trustees are working on a revised list comparing similar universities and their administrative pay structure.

For more information, go to the California Postsecondary Education Data website at