Wrote the Chronicle on August 7, 2009:
“On the same July day that the UC Board of Regents cut $813 million from UC budgets – setting in motion pay cuts, layoffs and campus cutbacks – the board quietly approved pay raises, stipends and other benefits for more than two dozen executives.”
The spin from UC: the people who earned the pay increases took on new duties and thus deserve to be compensated.
The critics respond that everyone has been asked to take on new duties from the janitor to the professors, and most of them are not only doing so without extra pay, they are doing so being paid less money for their greater workload.
The article quoted Kathy Renfro who chairs the UC Berkeley Labor Coalition:
“These are outrageous actions, taken at the same time as UC has been pleading poverty, giving layoff notices, forcing staff and faculty to take furloughs and hinting at more student fee increases.”
In the meantime President Mark Yudof, who himself received received nearly twice what his predecessor received, has along with others defended the actions.
“UC typically gets $3 billion of its $19 billion budget from the state. The state is cutting $813 million, and critics say UC should use more of its substantial remaining budget to find ways to avoid cutting salaries and jobs. Yudof has declined, saying that UC could find itself in legal trouble if it used funds for purposes they weren’t intended for.
Meanwhile, campus officials defended the pay increases, saying they were in line with what other universities, including top private schools, pay for such work.”
The response to this news depends on who is doing the talking of course. Chair of the UC Board of Regents, Russell Gould along with fellow Regent Bruce Varner wrote an Op-ed Wednesday that defends the decision entitled “UC Must Retain The Best Leaders.”
“The business of running a $19 billion, 180,000-employee enterprise – 10 campuses, five medical centers, research laboratories and a multitude of programs – does not come to a halt when the economy turns bad. People in leadership positions may leave or retire, but their institutional duties remain. Someone must run the medical center, head the academic department, oversee the research and administer the programs.”
They dismiss the notion that somehow this was done quietly:
“First, these decisions came to the board as informational items only. They had been approved at the request of campuses – case by case and over several months, after careful review and in some cases revision – by Regent Bruce D. Varner, chairman of the compensation committee, in consultation with UC President Mark Yudof.”
“Many of the items involved no new money whatsoever; others dealt with salaries paid from non-state sources, such as research hospital revenues; some created cost savings… To classify some of them as “pay raises” is deceiving. Each item has its own backstory, but many involved individuals taking on significant new responsibilities – a head of a urology department named dean of the medical school, for example – or stepping in to perform a whole portfolio of additional duties because positions were eliminated.”
On the other hand, as one might imagine, Senator Leland Yee responded quite differently, likening the pay increases to the bonuses that many of the top executives at private companies received despite the fact that taxpayers had to bail out their companies to keep them afloat.
Said Senator Yee in a release:
“The public is tired of the UC administration acting like AIG. It is imperative that we stop the UC Regents from turning our public university into a private country club. We can ill-afford an administration that continues to disrespect the taxpayers, students, and their low-wage workers and faculty.”
The Senator is pushing SB 217, which would limit executive compensation increases in years in which the state budget allocation to the UC has not increased.
Lakesha Harrison, President of AFSCME 3299 which represents many of the service workers was also critical of the pay increases:
“Excessive pay raises and extravagant perks is yet another example of UC executive’s misguided choices and misplaced priorities. Workers are being asked to put less food on their families’ tables while UC executives continue to enrich them themselves. Students are asked to pay more but get fewer services. This is outrageous and unacceptable. It is the reason why Californian’s need to reform the UC to make it accountable to taxpayers, not their own self interest.”
The pay increases have given increased momentum to SCA 21, a constitutional amendment which would require the UC to adhere to all state laws. It does not as some suggest put UC under the control of the state legislature.
According to the release:
“SCA 21 has received over 6,000 letters of support from students, faculty, and taxpayers, and is endorsed by AFSCME, University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE), University Council of the American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), California Nurses Association (CNA), Service Employees Trades Council (SETC), California Labor Federation, San Francisco Labor Council, State Building and Construction Trades Council, and the Phoenix Project for UC Democracy, among others.”
As Jack Zwald, the Vanguard’s UC Davis student commentator put it, “UC students pay more to get less.”
“All these raises happen in spite of the fact UC fees have doubled over the last ten years, excluding the recent 9.3% hike, even though the Regents and the University continue to cut back on services, hand out thousands to executives, and try to find new ways to cover their costs.”
But it seems that the rules that apply to all of the other employees do not apply to the top executives.
For intelligent people, the UC Regents have little understanding how these moves will play out in the public. Or perhaps they simply do not care. After all, they must have watched national news coverage of the outrage that people expressed when it was revealed that the same companies that received bailout money were giving out hundreds of thousands if not millions in bonuses to their top executives.
Certainly just as the bailout recipients attempted to, UC can logic and finesse an explanation that attempts to explain it away. However, in the winter and spring, the public was not very sympathetic toward the explanation from the private companies, it seems unlikely that the workers who have received paycuts will be very sympathetic toward UC.
Right now UC is insulated from public opinion. They are not held accountable by government agencies or the taxpayers. However, what they fail to understand seemingly is that each time one of these issues arise, they place themselves closer and closer to the inevitable–more control by the government.
The constitutional amendment, SCA 21 does not place UC under control of the legislature. That is mostly spin from UC itself. What it does however is subjects UC to the laws passed by the legislature. It makes them more accountable to the government which makes them in turn more accountable to the people.
If UC wishes to avoid the higher level of scrutiny, perhaps they ought to be more careful with how they proceed during times when they have had massive cut backs in wages, salaries, and layoffs. It would seem that a multibillion industry would have someone advising them on how the public and their own workforce might respond if such actions saw the light of day, if they invariably will.
And yet despite this, UC continues to operate as though they were untouchable. Perhaps that is what needs to change. If you don’t like SCA 21, perhaps we can do as Mr. Zwald suggests and have the ability to recall Regents. In other words, put the UC Regents under the control of the voters. Wouldn’t that be a novel concept?
—David M. Greenwald reporting