A recent report on the salary of public education administrators shows some are nearing the $2 million mark, while Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong is below the nationwide median. This comes a little more than a year after he was announced as the second-highest paid president in the California State University (CSU) system.
The Chronicle of Higher Education examined the salaries of 199 presidents at public universities across the United States. Though CSU presidents are not on the list (The Chronicle includes CSU Chancellor Charles Reed instead of each campus’ individual president), Armstrong’s $380,000 compensation is roughly equivalent to No. 114 and No. 115, Mary Jane Saunders of Florida Atlantic University and Mark Huddleston of the University of New Hampshire, respectively.
The report came just weeks after students and faculty rallied at the CSU Board of Trustees meeting in early May against what they say is “too high” executive compensation. The CSU has faced a controversial battle with executive compensation, with Reed (who was 75th on The Chronicle’s list) appearing as the No. 1 target of protestors throughout the state.
“The CSU needs to continue to attract quality leaders who are relentless in their efforts to provide quality services to students,” Armstrong wrote in an email. “It is the responsibility of the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees to decide whom to hire as president and what to pay, and it’s the responsibility of the presidents to ensure that students receive a high-quality education.”
In January, the Board of Trustees originally voted to cap presidential pay increases at 10 percent in years the trustees approve an increase in student tuition. But at its May meeting, the Board of Trustees took its latest controversial measure to help regulate presidential pay by voting to freeze state-funded increases on presidents’ salaries.
Instead, the new policy allows for university foundations, such as the Cal Poly Corporation, to grant raises up to 10 percent for incoming presidents. Three campus presidents, including Armstrong, currently receive supplementary salaries from university foundations.
Board of Trustee student representative Steve Dixon, a graduate student at Sacramento State, said the argument for reducing presidential pay is a political talking point but would not actually help solve the financial problems of the CSU.
“I think the presidential compensation argument is a red herring for people who want to beat up on the CSU,” Dixon said.
Armstrong is the second highest-paid president in the CSU system, only behind San Diego State University President Elliot Hirshman, whose $400,000 salary was set during the same meeting the Board of Trustees approved a 12 percent tuition increase for students. Hirshman’s compensation would fall 103rd on The Chronicle’s rankings, close to the median salary of $408,669.
E. Gordon Gee, president at Ohio State University, topped The Chronicle’s list with more than $1.99 million in total annual compensation to run the 56,000-student campus. Texas A&M Chancellor Michael McKinney, who announced his retirement earlier this month, was listed with the second highest salary at approximately $1.96 million.
Though Dixon said the CSU’s focus should not be on presidential compensation, he said it is important to ensure the system pays enough to attract qualified candidates who will be able to successfully manage the duties of a university president.
“We can’t be spending a lot of money on the presidents because the public perception is really bad,” Dixon said. “But people don’t understand that to have a really good university, you need really good faculty, really good presidents and really good administrators.”
Dixon said the CSU presidents’ goals should be getting donations for the universities, managing their executive cabinets and designing plans to enforce CSU mandates. These tasks, Dixon said, are not easy; it takes money to bring in a qualified candidate that can accomplish them.
Cal Poly spokesperson Chip Visci said Armstrong has succeeded in Dixon’s first goal, bringing in money for Cal Poly. The president is on track to receive $18 million in donations from July 2011 to March 2012, which is more than his predecessor Warren Baker did near the end of his tenure. Those gifts Armstrong secured include a $5 million Leprino donation to the dairy science department in June.
But even with the money he has brought in, some students have called Armstrong’s salary “extreme” and “a little ridiculous.”
“You do need a pretty big amount of money to bring in someone,” mechanical engineering senior Rustie McCumber said. “But something like $200,000, that’d be OK.”
CSU spokesperson Liz Chapin said lowering the presidents’ salaries at each of the campuses would play only a tiny part in decreasing overall spending. From the approximately $4 billion CSU budget, only $10 million, or approximately 0.2 percent, is spent on executive salaries.
Due to the small percentage of the budget spent on presidents and executive staffs, Chapin said no committee has seriously considered lowering presidents’ compensation as a cost-cutting measure.
“The effect would be minimal,” Chapin said. “It’s such a tiny fraction; it’s just part of a percentage point.”