Jerry Brown Criticizes Proposed CSU Administrator Pay

Update July 13: State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) seconded the governor's letter asking CSU trustees to rescind their salary offer to the new San Diego State president. Lieu's own letter, addressed to Board of Trustees Chair Herbert L. Carter, starts out like this:

Dear Mr. Carter:

I am struck by disbelief with the action the CSU Board of Trustees took yesterday when you voted to increase the San Diego State University President’s salary to $400,000, a 25-percent increase.

At a time of devastating state budget deficits, significant tuition increases that have doubled since 2007, and a global economic meltdown from which California has not yet recovered, it is inconceivable to me that you would lead the Board to approve such a massive salary increase for the SDSU President’s office.

It is even more incredulous that you simultaneously voted to increase tuition fees for students while raising salaries for your administrators. I am requesting the CSU Board to reverse its decision. Full letter

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In what is customarily called a "strongly worded letter," Governor Jerry Brown today criticized proposed total compensation of about $400,000 for the incoming president of San Diego State, Elliot Hirshman. That's about $100,000 more than his predecessor earned.

Here's the full text of the letter, addressed to Herbert Carter, the CSU Board of Trustees Chairman, with a CC to CSU Chancellor Charles Reed.

Dear Mr. Carter,

As this Board well knows, California is still struggling to overcome the effects of the great recession which forced tens of billions of dollars in state budget cuts.

The state university system has been particularly hard hit with painful sacrifices on the part of faculty and students alike. As trustees, you have to make tough calls and strive as best you can to protect our proud system of higher education.

It is in this context, and prompted by the salary decision you are about to make today, that I write to express my concern about the ever-escalating pay packages awarded to your top administrators.

I fear your approach to compensation is setting a pattern for public service that we cannot afford.

I have reviewed the Mercer compensation study (.pdf) and have reflected on its market premises, which provide the justification for your proposed salary boost of more than $100,000. The assumption is that you cannot find a qualified man or woman to lead the university unless paid twice that of the Chief Justice of the United States. I reject this notion.

At a time when the state is closing its courts, laying off public school teachers and shutting senior centers, it is not right to be raising the salaries of leaders who--of necessity--must demand sacrifice from everyone else.

These are difficult times and difficult choices must be made. I ask that you rethink the criteria for setting administrators’ salaries.

With respect,

Edmund G. Brown Jr.

So did it work? Not so far. The Committee On University and Faculty Personnel approved the salary on a 4-2 vote today, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, though (or is it "and"?) Carter announced he would create a committee to study the issue.

More from the Tribune:

The full board will take up the matter this afternoon... (Officials) point to a 2010 CSU-commissioned study by the Mercer consulting firm that concluded that CSU campus presidents’ total average cash compensation of $292,830 lags the average of a survey group of 15 public and five private universities across the country by 52 percent.

Total cash compensation for the top leader at those schools averaged $444,556, according to the study.

You can view that Mercer's compensation study here.


Some may call hikes in administrator pay just a wee bit tone deaf, considering the frequent tuition hikes in the face of the state's seemingly perpetual budget woes. UC also faced questions last year when the regents approved some hefty salary increases for new hires.