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Now is not the right time for CSU president pay raises

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As students in the California State University system prepare to head back to school in August, the future of their classes and programs hangs in the balance. State voters are being asked to support a November tax measure whose failure would automatically chop $250 million from the system. That cut would be on top of the $750 million already sliced out of the 2011-12 fiscal year budget.

Students continue to pay more for their education as universities continue to lose funding from the state. Over the past decade, tuition in the CSU system has increased more than 190 percent. If the cuts go into effect after a failed tax increase vote, the university system might raise tuition midyear by another 5 percent.

But at least three people on CSU campuses would not feel that budget sting. On Tuesday, university trustees will vote on a proposal that would increase the salaries for three new campus presidents at Cal State universities, including at San Francisco State University.

In May, the trustees changed system policy so that new presidents received the same state-funded compensation as their outgoing predecessors. The change came after new San Diego State University President Elliot Hirshman received a $100,000 pay raise over the salary of his predecessor. But trustees also allowed individual universities to increase the pay of new presidents by as much as 10 percent using foundation funds.

At San Francisco State University, the proposal on the table is for incoming President Leslie Wong to receive a salary of $298,749 plus an additional $26,251 from the university foundation for a total of $325,000. Wong also would receive a $60,000 housing allowance and a $1,000 monthly car allowance.

The boost from the foundation means Wong would receive a salary 9 percent higher than that of predecessor Robert Corrigan, who just stepped down after 24 years as president.

In the same proposal going before CSU trustees Tuesday, the new presidents of CSU Northridge and CSU San Bernardino would each receive 10 percent boosts over their predecessors’ salaries.

A spokesman for the CSU system says the pay increases are necessary to attract qualified individuals who can steer their respective campuses through tumultuous economic times.

CSU trustees made a good move in May when they limited the public funds that go toward new salaries for college presidents. And it certainly makes sense that the system needs to offer competitive salaries to recruit leaders who will be at the helm during some of the worst economic conditions the system has seen in decades.

But the timing of the new pay for these presidents is not appropriate. The pay proposal should be deferred until at least after the November election, when it will be clearer what the CSU system’s financial situation will look like in the future. Until then, the compensation for new presidents should be set at the rate of their predecessors.

Although any such delay would be largely symbolic, since the amount of the raises would not go far toward paying for classroom resources, it is nonetheless the proper way for leaders of the 23-campus system to take the lead in the face of looming cuts.