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'Nobody is going to the CSU to be a president to get rich,' spokesman says

Teachers participate in an education budget cut rally and protest at Pershing Square on May 13, 2011 in downtown Los Angeles, California.
Teachers participate in an education budget cut rally and protest at Pershing Square on May 13, 2011 in downtown Los Angeles, California.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

California State University spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp gave a bit of background on the executive compensation issue this afternoon after California's Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson sent his fellow Board of Trustees members a letter today calling for a freeze on more raises for incoming campus presidents.

Torlakson, who is also a trustee, was not at the January meeting in which the trustees established a policy to limit the amount of pay for presidents and established an acceptable range. Torlakson was also absent at last month's meeting where the board voted to approve the maximum salary increase for incoming presidents at CSU's Fullerton and East Bay campuses.

This was at the same meeting where university officials presented trustees with their plan, which will shut the door on nearly all of its spring 2013 applicants in order to offset drastic cuts to state funding.

"Unfortunately, [Torlakson] was not able to attend either meeting in January or March," Uhlenkamp said. "Obviously we do respect his opinion."

The January policy was worded to allow flexbility for establishing salaries for presidents of an individual campus, Uhlenkamp said. "The decision that was made in March was within that policy, but it also doesn't say that this is the decision that's going to happen every time going forward. So the determination of the salaries for the presidents being listed in [Torlakson's] letter, those decisions haven't happened yet."

Torlakson depicted his fellow trustees as out of touch with the budget issues facing the state.

"We cannot make these decisions in a vacuum, unaware of the challenges facing our state," Torlakson wrote. "We must be ever mindful of the financial emergency at every level of California's educational system. Our K-12 schools have seen cuts of nearly $22 billion over the last four years. Tens of thousands of teachers and school employees have been laid off, and many more are at risk over the next few months. Our national recognized early learning programs have been cut deeply, and are in jeopardy of being dismantled entirely."

Torlakson also recently spoke against the nearly 20,000 preliminary pink slips sent out to teachers across the state, who are required by state law to be notified by March 15.

The 23-campus CSU system is currently conducting six searches for campus presidents at Dominguez Hills, San Bernardino, California Maritime, San Francisco, Stanislaus, and Monterey Bay, Uhlenkamp said.

There is also the matter of compensating presidents as appropriate for the specific institution they will be heading, Uhlenkamp said. For example, he explains, the incoming president at Fullerton (35,000 students) is moving over from Dominguez Hills (15,000 students).

"Nobody is going to the CSU to be a president to get rich," Uhlenkamp said. "...We're trying to find these individuals to lead these institutions, and then we're trying to compensate them at an appropriate rate based on what's going on fiscally in the state of California."

Torlakson wrote that the Board of Trustees is expected to take up the issue of executive compensation at its May 9 meeting, though the agenda is not yet available. Uhlenkamp said he was not aware of what was on the agenda, but that Torlakson can bring up the issue for discussion if he is present. Uhlenkamp said the trustees would have to vote on any such freeze.

The CSU has been hit with about $1 billion in state funding cuts since 2007-8. And tuition has nearly doubled over the last four years: up from 2,772 per year for a full-time undergraduate in 2007-8 to $5,472 in 2011-12, Uhlenkamp said.

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).