A legislative distraction

STATE ISSUES: Leland Yee’s bill on UC executive pay incorrectly shifts the focus of student anger from the state to the regents.

Across the University of California, students are being asked to tighten their belts and share in financial sacrifice. California’s budgetary crisis has taken its toll, leaving the UC Board of Regents with a shrinking pool of resources. While executive pay is a contentious point, there are times when raises are crucial in order to uphold the university’s quality.

State Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, announced July 18 that he plans to introduce a bill that would limit UC and CSU executive pay by prohibiting pay increases for the systems’ top administrators in years that the universities’ state funding does not increase. Though we supported Yee’s similar bill, SB 217, in the past, rehashing this issue shifts the focus of the financial crisis incorrectly toward the regents.

As state funding continues to decline, duties of top university officials are being consolidated. It is unrealistic to expect them to take on more responsibilities without additional compensation, and consolidation often saves money because it is cheaper to raise the salaries of a few executives than to continue employing multiple staffers. We also cannot ignore market forces that would send top-performing administrators to more lucrative jobs. While pay increases that simultaneously occur with fee increases might look bad publicly, they are sometimes necessary to secure the talent needed to preserve this institution’s flagship status.

It is also important to understand the details of executive pay increases. According to UC spokesperson Steve Montiel, out of $271,100 in pay increases approved for three UC officials at the July regents’ meeting, only $47,440 came from the state. Ideally none of these increases would come from state funds, reality dictates otherwise, and the portion of funding is low enough that it is negligible.

But we also understand that executive pay raises should be subjected to public scrutiny. Students deserve to know why top executives are receiving raises, especially while students face rising fees.

Students must not let anger over fee increases result in them blindly pointing fingers at all those in charge; they must remember that the fiscal crisis is a result of the state’s disinvestment.

In the past, Yee has been a strong ally of students. We hope he will focus his efforts toward encouraging reinvestment in higher education — the kind of leadership students so desperately need in Sacramento.