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Legislator urges CSU to rescind $100,000 raise to San Diego State chief

July 13, 2011 |  3:26 pm

State Sen. Ted Lieu on Wednesday urged California State University leaders to rescind the $100,000 raise awarded to the new president of San Diego State, saying the action is not in the best interests of the public and damages the system’s credibility.

The Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved a compensation package that pays Elliot Hirshman $400,000 -- $100,000 more than his predecessor -- even as the system faces a $650-million cut in state funding. The board approved a 12% tuition increase at the same meeting.

In a letter to board Chairman Herbert Carter, Lieu (D-Torrance) said the action signaled that the trustees care more about lavish salaries than educating students. “You cannot behave like Wall Street and give unsustainable salaries to your executives,” Lieu wrote. “I flat out reject the argument that there was no one else in the world good enough at a $300,000 salary such that you had to give a $100,00 raise.”

In an interview, Lieu said he contacted the chancellor’s office and several trustees before the vote and told them it would be difficult for him to favor restoring funding cuts if the salary was approved. He also noted that the board had disregarded Gov. Jerry Brown’s strong objections.

Lieu said he is considering introducing legislation that would cap salaries and prevent future such decisions. Lieu’s district includes Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Cal State officials argue that campus presidents receive only about 52% of the pay of chief executives at similar institutions and that competitive salaries and benefits are needed to attract the most qualified administrators. Sitting presidents have not received a raise since 2007, they said.

Despite budget challenges, Cal State spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said the university needs to be able to offer what he called fair market compensation to its employees. "Whether it’s good economic times or bad economic times, there is never a good time where we want to cut corners on leadership,” he said.

Uhlenkamp said trustees are not likely to review the decision, which was 11 to 4 in favor of the compensation package.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Carter said he would form a committee to review policies on selecting and paying campus presidents; the panel is to report back to the board in September.

He added, "It seems to me at this point in time to be extraordinarily difficult, having hired this president and he having started work, to debate the wisdom of what we are going to pay him."


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