Battle of the Bucks

University administration, faculty in catfight over who’s gotten the biggest raises

photo by Tom Angel

The professors’ union at Chico State University has unveiled the eye-popping salaries of top administration officials. It did so, union leaders say, for purposes of public accountability. Not surprisingly, the administration has countered that fat-cat faculty are in a poor position to do any finger pointing.

So goes the battle of the bucks between two of the most affluent groups in Butte County, university teachers and administrators, with each trying to make the other seem absurdly well off. And indeed, the revelation of what many local residents would see as obscene compensation stands particularly in contrast to wages in general in Butte County, one of the poorest counties in the state, and Chico, long acknowledged to be a minimum-wage town.

Beau Grosscup, a political science professor and chief of the local chapter of the California Faculty Association, said the union published the list because it wanted all faculty and staff, as well as the public, to look at the facts and react.

“If you think administrators at Chico State are making too much, you should stand up and say so,” Grosscup said, referring to the members of his intended audience. “If you think what they make is too little or just the right amount, then say that.”

Although the union devoted the time and effort to draw up the list and publish it, all salaries at a tax-supported institution such as Chico State University are a matter of public record and available to anyone.

Grosscup labeled the administrators as the earnings “champs,” even though lesser-paid faculty bear the main burden of the university’s primary mission, which has always been teaching. At the same time he pointed out that professional development—mainly research, publishing, and interaction with professional groups—is gaining ever more importance in the eyes of those who make tenure, promotion, and salary decisions both at Chico State and at statewide system headquarters in Long Beach.

(Such a trend, however, moves counter to public policy established in 1960 when the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education set forth the mission of higher education for the three collegiate levels. The plan held that the University of California campuses should fulfill the research and doctoral-degree function and select their students from the top 12.5 percent of graduating high-school students, the California State University campuses should fulfill the teaching mission and select from the top 33.3 percent of students, and the junior, or community, colleges should fulfill a broad array of introductory, service and vocational missions and exercise an open-door policy for everyone.)

The list draws attention to 21 positions and the managers holding them who are paid in the $100,000-and-up range and their percentage increase over their 1999-2000 compensation. It lists three administrators earning just under $100,000 but does not include President Manuel Esteban, the highest salaried officer of all.

Chico State’s top executive officer, who like most other presidents in the system has largely delegated his campus leadership function to subordinates or the Academic Senate so he is more free to travel, raise funds, and talk to various groups and individuals, pulls down $200,784 plus a housing allowance and state car that bring his total annual compensation package to about $230,000.

(Robin Wilson, Esteban’s predecessor, was the last Chico State president tied by contract to living rent-free in the on-campus President’s Mansion, an older yet attractive state-owned residence designed by Julia Morgan but described by Wilson as a “fishbowl.” Understandably, presidents want to own their own fine homes by means of a generous housing allowance that allows them to pay the mortgage and build up equity.)

In order to show Esteban’s position among his peers, the union additionally distributed another list showing the California State University systemwide campus presidents and their merit-based compensation from 1997 to 2000. It indicates that Esteban received a cumulative increase of 36.51 percent over those three years for an average of 10.93 percent annually. In so doing, he trailed only three other presidents in the 21-campus system: Alexander Gonzales at San Marcos State with 11.67 percent, Albert Kamig at San Bernardino State with 11.11 percent, and John Welty at Fresno State with 11.08 percent.

The breakdown showed Esteban earning $147,000 in 1997, $164,000 in 1998, $188,532 in 1999, and $200,784 in 2000, his present salary. The state university system trustees set Esteban’s salary. He, in turn, decides what each management person at Chico State is worth.

(Chancellor Charles Reed, who runs the CSU system, earned $305,340; David Spence, Reed’s vice chancellor for academic affairs, earned $230,592; and Richard West, the system’s chief financial officer, earns the same amount. By contrast, only three presidents earned as much or more than Reed’s two chief lieutenants: Warren Baker at San Luis Obispo Polytechnic Institute at $244,356, Robert Masson at Long Beach at $236,699, and James Ropsser at Los Angeles State at $230,736.)

The other Chico State merit pay management positions and their compensation as revealed in the union’s list, are shown in the chart on this page.

Additionally, Grosscup wrote a letter to The Orion, the Chico State student newspaper, criticizing trends in administrative pay and growth that he said are a cost factor undermining the quality of student education. Grosscup stated in part:

“The California Faculty Association has grown increasingly alarmed during the last few years by the deterioration of working and learning conditions in the CSU, while resources have been diverted for an extraordinary building up of campus administrators.

“The number of CSU administrators increased by more than 125 percent from 1975-76 to 1998-99. During the same period, the number of full-time equivalent-students grew by 16.8 percent, and the number of faculty increased by approximately 6.8 percent. The impact of this diversion has meant an increase in class sizes and the cancellation of courses needed for many majors.”

Provost Scott McNall, the executive officer who actually runs the university, tied such position growth to government mandates that seek to expand fund-raising in the universities. Recent efforts have actually resulted in administrative savings, he said. For example, Brenda Aden, who moved up to fill the vice-provost of human resources position when Mike Beichler retired, advanced with an enhancement of her existing salary rather than adopt the retired Beichler’s salary; her upward move and the upward moves in her wake also avoided an outside hire, thus eliminating one administrative position.

McNall declined to speculate about public perceptions of administrative salaries or wages in general for Chico State jobs, long seen by Butte County and Chico residents as sinecures as well as far and away the best jobs in the county.

Administrative salaries at Chico State “are about right” in light of salaries elsewhere in the system and for similar jobs at comparable institutions. The provost showed more interest in pointing up big percentage gains by faculty who had been promoted and how these gains dwarfed administrative raise percentages.

Pursuing the differences, McNall countered that “a number of faculty” make more than $100,000 per year as well and had seen annual increases of as high as 18.5 percent. Asked later through his secretary for the list of faculty names and percentages he said he had, the provost replied through his secretary that Arno Rethans, vice provost for planning and resource allocation, had the names and numbers readily at hand.

Approached for comment, Rethans offered no help, saying he had “no idea” how many faculty earned for than $100,000 per year. However, he thought there were faculty who received 18-20 percent increases the last two years but wasn’t sure.

Investigation revealed only one faculty member with an increase in the range McNall and Rethans mentioned: Katherine McCarthy, associate professor of religious studies. She benefited from an 18.03 salary jump for total compensation of $59,796. This increase was possible because McCarthy received a general salary increase (GSI) of 3.6 percent, a faculty merit increase (FMI) of 5.2 percent, a salary step increase (SSI) of 1.73 percent, and a promotion from assistant to associate professor worth 7.5 percent. All faculty received the same GSI of 3.6 percent, and all promotions brought a 7.5 percent jump.

The next-highest increase went to Gayle Hutchinson, professor of physical education. She benefited from a 17.5 salary jump for total compensation of $75,192. She received a merit increase of 3.75 percent, a step increase of 2.65 percent, and a promotion from associate to full professor.

Investigation revealed three professors at Chico State who made $100,000 or more. Orlando Madrigal, a professor of computer science and engineering who served as department chair for 20 years during the formative years when the department became one of the best in the nation, receives $100,776 per year, according to public records. Roy Crosbie, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, receives $100,788, and James Mensching, a professor of management information systems (College of Business), receives $106,956. All make more than other full professors because they carry 12-month appointments, meaning they bear year-round responsibilities connected to industry and grant development that pay an additional two months of salary.

More important, Chico State is fortunate to have these instructors at what they earn because they could easily transfer to the private sector for a great deal more money. Take Mensching, the highest-paid professor on campus, for example. A Ph.D. in his field, he said his top undergraduate students walk off the stage with their bachelor’s diplomas to take a first job that pays more than he now earns, adding that the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced there are 500,000 unfilled jobs in the nation in the management information systems field.

The private sector constantly courts Mensching, but he said he stays in teaching because he considers it his mission. It should be noted that all three professor represent the academic areas that train students for the high-tech and business worlds most essential to driving the national economy. If they left, who would anchor the training of their young counterparts for tomorrow?

(The union also published the cumulative percentage increase in faculty compensation for the three professorial ranks to compare with management increases. A full professor earned $68,313 in 1997-98, $71,586 in 1998-99, $75,950 in 1999-2000 and $80,302 in 2000-0l, for a cumulative increase of 17.65 percent and an annual increase of 5.88 percent. An associate professor earned $55,284, $57,229, $60,717, and $64,683 during the same years for a cumulative increase of 17 percent and an annual increase of 5.66 percent. An assistant professor earned $44,475, $46,355, $49,181, and $51,932 during the same years for a cumulative increase of 16.77 percent and an annual increase of 5.59 percent.)

McNall offered no comment when asked about the fact that every instructor in the university, including part-time faculty, received at least a 1.0 percent merit pay raise. Some faculty received as high as 7.5 percent merit raises. Most such increases ran between 2 and 4 percent, according to public records. Taken at face value, these numbers mean that every instructor is doing a good enough job to be rewarded, a questionable assumption at best in any public bureaucratic organization. In other words, Chico State functions as a university, but first and foremost it is a bloated state bureaucracy.

Before merit raises as such entered the pay scale, faculty received a 5 percent automatic “merit” raise each year by way of the step increases until they reached the top of their rank. Each rank contained five such steps. A promotion to the next rank renewed the process.

Today the step increases are less than 5 percent because more steps have been added and ranks overlap, yet they remain along with merit raises for mostly richer merit compensation. For example, Katherine McCarthy, the religious studies instructor referred to earlier, received 6.93 percent combined step and merit raises.

By odd contrast, Russell Mills, a civil engineer professor honored as the Chico State outstanding teacher for 2000-2001, received only a 1.2 percent merit increase but no step increase. Additionally, he received a $1,000 stipend as part of the coveted award. Why would such an honoree get a mere 0.2 percent increase over the lowest blanket merit raise of 1.0 percent?

That question cannot be answered, as McNall confirmed, because Mills’ compensation is a confidential personnel matter that the university will not discuss. In fact, it is university public relations strategy—Chico State is a secretive institution, so to speak—to avoid comment on any controversial situation regarding any employee by calling it a personnel matter, whether it actually is or not.

Tom Fox, an English professor named the Chico State outstanding professor for 2000-2001, meaning he displayed an impressive resume heavy with professional activity and publication, fared somewhat better than Mills with a 2.9 percent merit increase and a 2.65 percent step increase. Again, his 5.55 overall gain appears relatively small considering he’s the recipient of the highest faculty honor the university offers. Like Mills, Fox received a $1,000 stipend as part of the award.

What Chico State’s honchos earn

POSITION 1999-00 2000-01 % INCREASE

Provost Scott McNall $145,008 $155,304 7.1
VP, Academic Affairs, Byron Jackson 99,996 107,224 7.2
VP, Enrollment,Robert Hannigan 112,488 120,084 6.7
VP, Human Resources, Brenda Aden* 115,500 104,404 NA
VP, Information Systems, Fred Ryan** 118,854 128,076 8.0
Director, Library Services, Bill Post 101,616 109,499 7.9
VP, Planning, Arno Rethans 105,036 112,656 7.2
Director, Operations, Bob Sneed 93,744 98,904 5.5
Dean, Continuing Ed., Debra Barger* 118,854 102.504 NA
Dean, Grad. & Internat’l St., Bob Jackson 104,172 110,940 6.5
VP, Business, Dennis Graham 134,508 143,004 6.3
Director, Finance, George Wellman 92,940 100,380 9.0
Director, Planning, Greg Francis 94,032 100,620 7.0
VP, Students, Paul Moore 128,004 134,400 5.0
Assoc. VP, Advancement, Ed Masterson 105,492 113,196 7.3
Assoc. VP, Student Life, Herman Ellis 89,484 96,012 7.3
Dean, Agriculture, Charles Crabb 110,004 117,708 6.4
Dean, Commun. & Educ., Steve King 117,672 125,316 7.6
Dean, Engin. & Comp. Sci., K. Derucher 116,868 126,216 8.2
Dean, Humanities, Don Heinz** 115,800 122,748 6.0
Dean, Natural Sciences, Roger Lederer** 112,788 120,396 6.75
* Newly appointed as replacement for retiree.
** Retired.