EDITORIAL: UC lives the high life while griping about tight budgets

Declining state support for public education is a well-worn complaint of University of California leadership.

UC officials have used this scapegoat to justify controversial tuition increases, ballooning class sizes and record-breaking undergraduate enrollment, including recruitment of more out-of-state students. But while UC administrators are right to speak out against state disinvestment, that message gets lost when they continue to jack up salaries and expenses among their own ranks.

This is particularly clear in two recent instances of executive excess -- the first reported by the Center of Investigative Reporting on the high cost of executive travel at UCLA, and the second documented by The Sacramento Bee's Phillip Reese on the record compensation of UC Davis' new communications chief.

The CIR investigation found that between 2008 and mid-2012, one administrator alone ran up $647,000 in travel costs, the CIR reported.

At UC Davis, new associate chancellor for strategic communications Luanne Lawrence, will collect an annual salary of $260,000, a system-wide record for her position.

Against the backdrop of budget cuts, UC officials have made much of the growing role of donors for the public university. Officials claim they need to pay high salaries and dole out lavish expenses as part of a mission to expand support.

But $647,000 is not an expense tab within reason for a single university employee and her fund-raising adventures, even over several years.

In the case of UC Davis, universities officials say Lawrence is filling a new position, with broader strategic responsibilities than her predecessor, so a higher salary is justified. But where does this stop, and how much money should UC Davis be spending on communications, as opposed to teaching and research, its core mission? Does the workload of a new public relations employee really merit more salary than that paid to the state's governor?

California's top Democratic leaders pushed for Proposition 30 on the promise the tax hike would limit tuition increases. Voters did not approve Prop. 30 to support bloated UC salaries and lavish expenses. If some voters now have buyer's remorse, nobody should be surprised.