California State University keep adding to its collection of self-inflicted wounds.
Remember the $100,000-a-year pay increase for the new president of San Diego State University, the one approved the same day as a 12 percent tuition increase for CSU students?
That was followed by smaller but still substantial pay raises for chief executives at two other campuses. And, of course, more tuition increases.
Now comes a report that, over the past 10 years, taxpayers have paid at least $1 million for remodeling and upgrades of eight houses provided to CSU campus presidents. Yet another $1 million was spent for the same purpose by campus foundations, according to California Watch, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting.
The remodels included expanding garages and upgrading kitchens, and the costs even included interior designers. No DIY projects for the state university presidents.
Any household maintenance costs or expenses for routine repairs came on top of the makeovers, according to California Watch, which published a subsequent report setting those costs at $210,000 a year.
CSU provides houses for 11 of its 23 campus presidents as well as for the system's chancellor. The other campus presidents, including Ruben Armi?na of Sonoma State University, receive a $60,000-a-year housing allowance in addition to their salaries.
An official residence isn't an unusual perk for a university president, even at public schools, in part because their official duties include hosting fundraisers. With two exceptions, all of the CSU residences are at least 46 years old, so it's not entirely surprising that some of them may be in need of renovations.
But the trustees' focus on the comfort and compensation of campus presidents couldn't be more confounding — or ill-timed — given the startling rise in tuition and other costs that threaten to put a higher education beyond the reach of middle-class families in the Golden State.
In the fall, basic tuition will be $5,970. With a mandatory fee averaging $1,047, the price will stand at $7,017. That's a three-fold increase in 10 years, and a mid-year increase is likely if voters reject Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.
It also should be noted that the CSU faculty has been under a pay freeze since 2008 and recently authorized a strike. The trustees are probably right that the university can't afford raises given the $1 billion cut in state funding CSU has experienced since 2007-08, a four-year span that saw the university's annual budget cut from $4.5 billion to $4 billion. But their credibility is strained when they manage to find money for the upper echelon while asking front-line employees to make do with less and students and families to pay more.
CSU Chancellor Charles Reed announced his retirement this month. The trustees also are looking to fill presidential vacancies at several campuses. They recently adopted a policy limiting presidential pay raises to 10 percent and requiring that funding comes from foundations. Here's a better idea: CSU trustees should take this opportunity to acknowledge that salaries have risen beyond the state's resources, and now is a good time to start ratcheting them down.