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Accepting culpa-bility
At first of two Sacramento hearings on executive compensation, UC President Dynes pledges to exert more control. Legislators still wonder: will heads roll in Oakland?

– Stung by a months-long string of explosive revelations about executive-pay practices at the University of California, UC President Robert Dynes faced the music on Wednesday in the form of the state Senate Education Committee, which held the first of two public hearings into what one panel member, state Sen. Abel Maldonado (R), termed "an organized disaster."

UC compensation: The campus context

Dynes, acknowledging to the largely critical panel that the UC system "has not always met its obligations to public accountability," accepted responsibility for failing to devote sufficient attention to the business side of his job, a shortcoming he attributed to "spending an awful lot of time" during his two years as president working to ensure that the university "remains a world-class center of teaching and research."

"That does not excuse anything we have done improperly," he added, "but it is an important piece of context to understand."

He also said he'd had problems of his own in getting information about UC's far-flung operations (10 campuses, three national research labs, and "more sites than you can imagine"). "Our information systems," he declared, "are as bad as any I've ever seen."

Apologies and explanations notwithstanding, Sen. Gloria Romero (D) expressed "outrage" over the Office of the President's generous treatment of some top administrators, and several of her colleagues voiced frustration at the lack of "transparency" in compensation packages offered to executives. Other watchwords during the four-hour session were "Greenwood" (Marcie) and "Rose" (Celeste), two high-ranking UC employees who personified, for several panel members, the perceived misuse of taxpayer funds and betrayal of public trust at the heart of Wednesday's hearing.

Among other corrective measures, Dynes has established a task force to review the system's compensation policies and practices and report back to the Board of Regents at its next meeting. The regents have also launched an external audit of senior-management compensation and created a new oversight committee to monitor pay and perquisites for top-tier executives.

Dynes said he hoped to "inspire some cultural change at the university - to make some fundamental changes so that our institutional culture more fully embraces, at every level, the notion of public responsibility and public accountability. . I believe we have an opportunity to be a leader in the accountability movement in academia, and hopefully a model for how other public institutions can balance their competitive needs with openness."

'I'm hearing about what you're promising to do, but I still don't understand how we got here in the first place.'
-Sen. Gloria Romero (D)

But Romero, insisting that "mea culpas" weren't enough, warned Dynes that seriously addressing the problems is "going to take a whole lot more than promises for the future."

"I would have hoped in your presentation you would have helped the senators and the people here, and students and taxpayers and the constituents I described to you in East Los Angeles, who are so disappointed about what is occurring at the University of California - I'm hearing about what you're promising to do, but I still don't understand how we got here in the first place."

Roughly 100 listeners jammed into the Capitol hearing room, with perhaps half the audience made up of UC employees representing a number of campuses and unions, including the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the California Nurses Association, and the Coalition of University Employees, which brought a busload of more than 20 CUE members from the Berkeley campus. Many were there to protest what Berkeley staffer Amatullah Alaji-Sabrie, a member of CUE's executive board, described as "the idea of paying raises and excellent benefits to the top people in the organization while the ones who are economically at the lower end must continue to wait."

The San Francisco Chronicle reported in November that UC had "quietly" provided $871 million in "bonuses, administrative stipends, and other hidden compensation" to UC faculty and staff during 2004-05. The Office of the President has since denied the newspaper's suggestion that most of the money went to highly paid executives, saying that only $7 million was used to compensate administrators above and beyond their base salaries. The rest, it says, went to doctors for clinical work, to faculty for summer teaching and research, and to union employees for severance pay, performance bonuses, and incentives.

Besides the lack of transparency - the fact, acknowledged by Dynes, that actual compensation packages for many executives were not voluntarily disclosed to the regents, the state Legislature, or the public until they appeared in news accounts - it was the treatment accorded Greenwood and Rose that sparked most of the hearing's fireworks.

Greenwood, a former UC Santa Cruz chancellor, resigned as UC's provost in November in the face of allegations that she'd used her influence to secure university employment for a business partner, but she is now on a sabbatical, reportedly at a salary of more than $300,000 a year.

"She resigned under a cloud," said Sen. Jack Scott (D), the committee's chairman. "She created a job for a business partner of hers, and that's a violation of university policy." Noting that Greenwood's salary as a faculty member - a position to which she plans to return after her sabbatical - was considerably less than $300,000, he added, "She didn't exactly receive a great kind of penalty for that."

Dynes replied that the university is still investigating the matter, and, "if in fact it is determined that she broke the law," UC's agreement with Greenwood gives it recourse for disciplinary action.

Scott, however, insisted that "in the eyes of the public . I guess it was Sen. [Jackie] Speier who said it doesn't pass the smell test."

It was Speier (D) who pressed for answers about Rose, a former vice chancellor at UC Davis who remains on the payroll at an annual salary reported at $205,000, in return for which she is not required to perform any job duties. The arrangement was struck in response to charges by Rose, an African American, that her dismissal as vice chancellor was motivated by racial and gender discrimination.

"She doesn't have any work, it appears that she's not coming to the office," Speier said. "So for all intents and purposes it's a settlement out of court, not a continuation of a job. And it should be reported as that, if that's what it is."

"She has two years' pay to sit home and watch TV, do nothing, you give her a task, she says, 'No, I don't want to do it,' she continues to get paid," added Maldonado. "Isn't that what happened here?"

Romero went further, demanding to know why no one had yet been fired over any of the revelations. "To me, at least, it's wrong, and I question whether or not it does border on criminality."

Dynes agreed such disclosures were troubling. "More than just policies and procedures, ethical behavior is important to me," he said. "I am grieved. I have to tell you honestly, I am upset."

He vowed to implement reforms "that stick," a reference to a series of early 1990s policy recommendations, made in the wake of similar controversy over inflated UC compensation and retirement packages, and occurring, as now, at a time of escalating student fees, that were not systematically adopted or enforced.

In a nod to complaints by UC staffers that their own salaries lag further behind the market than those of high-level administrators, Dynes told the panel, "I am very cognizant that it takes everyone in the university community to build a successful institution - custodians, administrators, groundskeepers, professors, lecturers, clerical employees, researchers, and deans - and we need to make sure everyone is properly compensated for their contributions."

By the end of the session - which included extended testimony on standard compensation practices at U.S. universities and on UC's compliance with financial reporting requirements, as well as brief statements from union, faculty, and student representatives - panel members were still hungry for answers.

"At the end of the day," said Maldonado of the Greenwood and Rose cases, "there were no penalties, there were no consequences," adding that he believed Dynes was getting bad advice from his staff.

"Who took it in the shorts here?" he asked. "What is going on over there?" Referring to the committee's follow-up session on Feb. 22, when regents' chair Gerald Parsky is scheduled to appear, he told Dynes, "Those are questions that I hope, when you come back in two weeks, we can get some more answers to."