UC Salaries Come at the Expense of Students

Illustration by Erin Johnson

Illustration by Erin Johnson
Mo Money, Mo Problems

It’s more bad news for University of California students, as UC officials have agreed to a 9.3 percent hike in student fees for the 2009-10 academic year. According to The Los Angeles Times, this would amount to a $662 increase per student and will bring the average basic cost for an undergraduate UC education to $8,720 a year for California residents, not including room, board and books. This increase has been enacted in order to help cope with the $450 million UC budget shortfall that is projected for the next two years.

While UC Regents have agreed to raise student fees, they have also decided to fill three executive positions worth a total of more than $1 million. In order to defend that move, UC spokesman Paul Schwartz provided a written statement saying that two of the positions were existing jobs that were vacant. That does not seem to justify why three positions could amount to more than $1 million, especially when salaries are being cut across the board. On top of that, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the regents offered two former chancellors each a year’s paid leave worth a total of $717,000.

One of the recipients is former UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef, who will earn a base $315,000 during his time off, $7,500 to move his belongings from his free university residence into private housing and $39,000 during his year off to travel to Asia and Iran. In addition to those monetary incentives, he will also have use of a secretary who earns $91,000 a year plus benefits.

Although Vanderhoef is one of the longest-serving university leaders in the nation and has played a major role in UC Davis’ progress since he took over in 1994, the benefits he will receive are worthy of criticism due to the state budget crisis that has greatly affected education.

The Orange County Register stated that $315,000 of Vanderhoef’s earnings would be used to “retool his laboratory, talk to the public and start writing a book.” While $315,000 could go a long way in realizing goals that could better the academic community, it is important to remember that Vanderhoef will be receiving this amount of money during his time off. The expenses of any projects he wishes to take on during his leave should come from his own pocket, rather than from the fee increases of students. Keep in mind that this is just the money he will be receiving during his leave of absence; who knows how much he will earn when he returns to the university.

Also, $7,500 to move out of a home sounds a bit excessive, not to mention that Vanderhoef was living in free university housing to begin with. His use of a secretary, who will be paid $91,000 plus benefits per year, seems highly unnecessary; the average secretary in the United States made an average of $37,750 in 2008, according to the International Association of Administrative Professionals.

In a recent interview with the New University, UC President Mark Yudolf defended high salaries as he stated that they were a means of drawing in qualified candidates and keeping those candidates from seeking positions elsewhere, referring in particular to medical positions within the UC system.

“It is very common in both the public and private sector that physicians are paid their base salary and then they are paid incentive or performance money in addition to the amount of patients that they see; that is the way the whole medical world is organized. If we do not have that system, then our doctors leave Irvine and go to other hospitals,” Yudolf said.

Yudof’s defense is that high salaries are a means of drawing in qualified candidates and keeping those candidates from seeking positions elsewhere. While incentives are understandably necessary in any position, there is no reason why the salaries of certain UC officials should be so excessively high. Incentives are one thing, but as a public university that is experiencing significant cutbacks, overly pricey incentives should be cut as well.

In light of recent economic difficulties, there is no valid justification for top UC staff to be receiving substantially large salaries for taking time off or for retiring. This demonstrates a serious flaw in the UC system, as it has not found another way of attracting top staff other than wringing every last dollar out of the students whom the system is supposed to serve.

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