When the University of California Board of Regents votes today on a new president, Californians should watch the compensation package.
This is one area where nominee Janet Napolitano, secretary of U.S. Homeland Security, can make a big difference. As an outsider to academia with a long career in public service, Napolitano understands public service pay.
She earned $95,000 a year as governor of Arizona and earns $199,700 a year as a U.S. Cabinet secretary. She was among five Cabinet secretaries who volunteered to take a 5% pay cut this year after across-the-board "sequestration" spending cuts took effect March 1.
Napolitano and the regents can make a clean break with the incestuous market basket survey among public and private universities, where every administrative move sends salaries toward the stratosphere.
Though Napolitano would come into the UC presidency without a record as a scholar or campus administrator, she could garner immediate respect within the university community and among Californians if she accepted a total compensation package that would still be significantly more than she has received in public service — but considerably less than UC President Mark Yudof.
He came in with respect for his record as a constitutional scholar and university administrator. But his tenure was marred by an excessive compensation package valued at more than $828,000 in the 2008-09 year that he started.
Napolitano could send a strong message with her own compensation package as an example, that pay at a public university should reflect public purposes — including the public expectation that our public universities should enrich the state as a whole, not a privileged few.
UC has more than 9,000 senior administrators — an ever-wider mix of associate and assistant vice presidents, deans and directors — compared with 5,400 a decade ago. In fact, UC has more senior administrators than full-time, tenure-track faculty.
Napolitano's nomination provides a prime opportunity to bring the number of administrators and their salaries in line with a public service ethos.
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