The California State University (CSU) did not violate any public meetings laws in approving the salary of Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong, the highest CSU president salary to date, according to a ruling by a Los Angeles judge last week.
The matter was brought to court by California Faculty Association (CFA) president Lillian Taiz, who alleged that in offering Armstrong an annual salary of $350,000, the CSU set a new precedent for high executive salaries.
The Board of Directors did not make its decision to raise the executive pay range public before voting on Armstrong’s salary, which is in violation of the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, said Glenn Rothner, the lawyer who argued the case on behalf of Taiz and the CFA. The act states: “It is public policy of this state that public agencies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business and the proceedings of public agencies be conducted openly so that the public may remain informed.”
“There was no notice to the public that in granting the $350,000 salary, that would move up the range of salaries for campus presidents,” Rothner said.
The notice to the public about the CSU Board of Trustees is required under the Bagley-Keene Act.
In offering Armstrong a high salary, the Board of Trustees also raised the pay range, of which they had given no advance notice, which violates the act, Rothner said.
This new pay level set a dangerous precedent for future presidents at a time when the CSU is making broad funding cuts.
“Now that the range had been increased, when the new president was hired at San Diego State, he was hired at the top of the range,” Rothner said.
The judge, however, ruled that the act was not violated because the Board of Trustees gave advance notice of Armstrong’s proposed salary several weeks before the meeting.
“The committee’s agenda provided all of the details (in far greater than 20 words) of the compensation package proposed for the recently appointed president of Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo),” the judge wrote in the ruling on Taiz’s case.
The matter of raising the pay range was a simple, necessary and obvious step in offering Armstrong the $350,000 salary, the judge ruled. The ruling also stated that every administrative salary is approved on an individual basis.
“The judge believed that the increase of the range was a mere administrative matter,” Rothner said.
The judge’s ruling in favor of the CSU confirmed that the Board of Trustees’ actions were legal, CSU media relations specialist Erik Fallis said.
Meeting agendas and proposals are available on the CSU’s website 10 days before a meeting, in compliance with public procedure laws. The suggested decision on each item of business is included in the agenda, and the Board of Trustees rarely make a different decision, Fallis said.
“It just showed that we are transparent as a system,” he said.
Before the judge’s ruling, the CSU was already confident that no state laws had been violated, Fallis said. The ruling was just an affirmation of that.
The CSU is not the only side to find something to be proud of in the judge’s decision. Taiz and the CFA also feel that the ruling is a victory, even if it is a loss, because of the press attention to the CFA’s cause, Rothner said.
“Ms. Taiz and her union feel as though they succeeded in what they set out to do, which was to draw attention to this,” Rothner said.
Now, the matter of executive pay raises will move into the hands of other governing bodies, specifically the legislature of California, Rothner said.
Already, legislation is in the works that would control how much executives at public universities are paid, Rothner said.
“The legislature can take it from her and provide a remedy,” Rothner said.