UC Regents to hit students with more than just pepper spray

Pepper spray is far from the only stinging rebuke felt by students at UC-Davis and other UC campuses in recent weeks.  Regents of the UC system are currently considering tuition increases that could reach 16 percent, bringing the cost of an education from $12,000 to $22,000 per student by the 2015-16 academic year.  This fee is for tuition only, excluding room, board and other expenses such as books and special lab fees.

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The UC Board of Regents blames the legislature for so severely cutting budgets on California’s premiere campuses that they have no choice but to shift the burden onto students and their parents.  However, a closer look at some of the pay practices by the Regents might make any “Occupy” crowd wonder about the sincerity of the Board’s complaints.

For example, according to a September 16 article in the Los Angeles Times:

“UC Davis Medical Center’s chief executive, Ann Madden Rice, was given a $215,700 raise, upping her base salary to $800,000, to fend off a recruiting effort by another hospital. Rice is also eligible for $160,000 in performance-based incentives, according to UC documents.”

The article also reveals that the University’s chief investment officer, Marie Berggren, was awarded nearly $750,000 in bonuses by the Regents, bringing her annual cash compensation to $1.2 million.

No one doubts the contributions that these administrators have made to the university system, but in my view, they are not the star players on campus.  Those should be the college professors who actually transfer knowledge and wisdom to the students, but who rarely receive the types of salary increases of investment officers, chief executives and even athletic coaches.

As the argument goes, market value drives the salary of senior executives – whether in corporations, universities or non-profit agencies.  But not all of the Regents agree.

“I don’t think we can afford to chase market salaries,” said Regent Eddie Island in response to administrators’ contention that Berggren’s pay was on par with executives at other major public universities and lower than if UC had hired an outside fund manager.  His view was a minority opinion, however, as his was the lone vote against bonuses or salary adjustments.

The problem is not unique to the UC system.  Ohio State University just paid Urban Meyer – its new football coach – a $4 million annual salary plus bonus opportunities that will reward him at a level four times that of the University president.  The New York Times called Urban’s contract “the latest indication that the big business of college football is undeterred by the nation’s broader economic woes or by concern about the prominence of sports on campus.”

Meanwhile, the UC Berkeley Daily Californian reports that most professors in the UC system received a 3 percent annual increase effective October of this year, with a small number of particularly outstanding faculty members receiving up to 6 percent.  Faculty groups have long complained that the largest growth in both positions and salaries have gone to administrative areas rather than teaching and research.

For the students of Occupy Davis and other college-based clones of the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is less about which administrators or professors receive an increase and more about the burden of paying for a college education.  For the nation, it is about the priority we place on paying whatever the market will bear for the glamor jobs of the university world.