Earlier this week, the regents inappropriately awarded Nicholas Dirks, who will replace Robert Birgeneau as chancellor in June, a $50,000 pay increase above his predecessor’s salary. While the extra funding for Dirks’ pay will not be drawn from public funds, university officials say, the salary boost nonetheless makes a statement that he is somehow exempt from the cutbacks seen elsewhere in the university.
Officials also pointed out that UC executive compensation is significantly lower than at other universities, and while a desire to compete on that front is understandable, it does not justify paying Dirks more in this instance. There are many other important reasons why Dirks would want to lead a public campus — compensation should not be a deciding factor.
And despite any well-intentioned reasons to pay the next chancellor more than the current one, students, faculty and staff members at UC Berkeley will inevitably be skeptical, if not upset, over the regents’ decision. This could, in turn, make it difficult for Dirks to be an effective chancellor once he starts because some students, faculty and staff members will already view him in a negative light. He has a significant amount of difficult work ahead, including guiding the campus through an ongoing period of fiscal volatility — a pay raise will not help him bring people together.
UC Berkeley community members are especially conscious of wealth divides, as seen in last year’s Occupy Cal demonstrations. Paying the new chancellor more money can easily come across as another example of the rich getting richer, no matter the source of the money, while others struggle. It is especially concerning to see that juxtaposition at this university, where tuition has skyrocketed and the quality of a UC education is threatened as funding becomes scarce.
The raise will also likely cast a negative image of the university in the public eye. Not even a month after voters passed Proposition 30, thereby taxing themselves under the impression that it would avert debilitating cuts to the university, raising the UC Berkeley chancellor’s pay gives the impression that the university’s priorities are not in order. Taxpayers’ agreement to pay more partially to alleviate pressure on the cash-strapped UC system is not the right time to increase executive compensation.
Of course, Dirks himself is not to blame for all this — it was the regents who approved his compensation package. However, because of the many serious drawbacks to his raise, Dirks must realize how much it would mean to the campus community if he returned the extra $50,000 to benefit students, faculty and staff members on campus. Taxpayers and students have been asked to pay more in order to support public education, and more belt-tightening for the university is feasibly in store.
Because of this, as Gov. Jerry Brown pointed out during the meeting, UC leaders “have to demonstrate that they are sacrificing.” Dirks should strongly consider leading by example.