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Berkeleyan

Berkeleyan

Opinion

02 February 2006

Editor's note: In our Jan. 19 issue, we published an interview with Chancellor Robert Birgeneau focusing on aspects of the executive-compensation issues raised by recent coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle. We here publish a response to portions of that exchange from a campus staff member, who also provides resource information supportive of her conclusions.

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In his Berkeleyan interview, Chancellor Birgeneau shows deep concern about compensation for top-level people, but explains away the compensation gap for lower-level staff. At the same time that he justifies the University of California competing with Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and Texas for upper-level administrators and faculty, he expects UC clericals to believe that they have great benefits and are compensated at "approximately market rate," and that someday UC will treat them better.

Sources and resources

Susan Agnew offers this listing of sources to substantiate statements made in her opinion piece.

Berkeleyan interview with Chancellor Birgeneau

Berkeleyan coverage of 2005 fact-finder's report in UC/CUE dispute

University of California Labor Relations web page about the report

Coalition of University Employees (CUE) web page relating to UC compensation

Chronicle of Higher Education 2005 report on executive compensation at private institutions

Let's look first at the rationale for paying those "at the very top" so generously. UC compares its faculty and top administrator salaries with those at some of the best-funded universities in the country. Yale and Harvard are well-known to have enormous endowments; Stanford has buildings named for Hewlett, Packard, and Gates; and Texas has the Permanent University Fund (a huge endowment derived mostly from oil revenues from UT landholdings). What do California taxpayers get for competing to overpay top administrators? What exactly would Administrator X, whom UC might readily attract for a mere $200,000 a year, be unable to do that Administrator Y, who insists on $500,000 a year, could do?

The university's mission should not include providing a lavish lifestyle for anyone at taxpayer expense, whether the outlay comes directly from state funds or indirectly from federally (i.e., taxpayer-) funded research grants or donations from wealthy "friends of the university" that are tax writeoffs (again, taxpayer-funded).

Now let's look at total compensation for clericals. The salary gap is real: Job listings posted on HR websites at UC and at the California State University system - which is similar to UC in size, type of work, and organizational goals - show that the salary range for a CSU ASCII is $2,847 to 4,275 monthly, while at UC an AAII salary range is $2,560 to 3,188 monthly. Other job titles show similar gaps. As revealed by an impartial fact-finder's report during the recent Coalition of University Employees (CUE) contract dispute, UC documented the clerical-staff earnings gap, used those data to petition the state for money, then - when state funds weren't forthcoming - reallocated to other uses the millions of dollars already set aside in the budget to increase clerical-staff salaries. Meanwhile, UC told clericals that salaries couldn't be increased because of budget constraints and because other staff did not get increases that year. (However, many exceptions were made for top-level administrators, as we have learned from recent articles in the San Francisco Chronicle.)

Lower-level UC staff who have had only a tiny salary adjustment over the past five years have effectively had a pay cut, since living costs have gone up. They take second jobs, search for more-affordable housing, and find that they can't afford to retire - though someday they must. Unfortunately, UC's benefits package fails to make up for the salary gap, leaving clericals even further behind when they do retire. Again taking the CSU system as a reference point, and using the high point of the range to calculate retirement benefits after 20 years at age 55, the UC employee's monthly benefit would be $1,147, only two-thirds of the CSU employee's benefit of $1,710. (Ironically, the majority of clericals work at UC less than five years - is it any wonder? - so they never become eligible for UC retirement benefits in the first place.)

High staff turnover does not contribute to "excellence." Lower-level staff and lecturers - the people who work with students and faculty every day, supporting the educational mission of the university - need to be able to afford to work here. It's an insult to tell them that there's not enough money in the budget to pay them fairly, and then engage in bidding wars for top administrative and faculty "stars" who rarely see an undergrad.

Finally, let's translate the chancellor's closing comments: He hopes that eventually, sometime in the future, the state will provide UC with so much money that some will trickle down to lower-level staff - after the priority of rewarding those at the top, in secret or in public, is met. But why would anyone agree to dump more money into the UC system if that is the priority? The self-entitled people at the top will always want more - and as long as their priority is to reward themselves, they will get more. The words we have been hearing for years about improving lower-level salaries - if only the budget would allow - are still just words. Unfortunately, there will never be enough to "bridge the gap" until priorities change at the very top.

Susan Agnew
Undergraduate assistant, Near Eastern Studies

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