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California State University cannot justify administrative growth, manager raises, audit says

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Monique Graham, a fourth-year communication and dance major at Sacramento State, is $40,000 in debt from student loans. She explains how one proposal by Assembly Democrats' would help her.

The California State University system has hired new managers at more than double the rate of other employees over the past decade, perhaps unnecessarily, according to a new state audit released Thursday.

Echoing complaints of administrative bloat that often arise during contract bargaining negotiations with employee unions, California State Auditor Elaine Howle called out CSU for failing to adequately explain the number of new management personnel, such as campus vice presidents, deans, supervisors and head coaches, as well as salary increases that far outstripped faculty and support staff.

Managers were generally hired for worthwhile purposes, including to increase student access to courses, four-year graduation rates and fundraising efforts, Howle wrote in her report. “Nevertheless, campuses were often unable to justify the number of management personnel they hired and consequently could not demonstrate that they are providing these services in the most cost-effective manner.”

There were nearly 4,000 managers in the CSU system during the 2015-16 academic year, comprising about 7.5 percent of all employees. But that total is almost 15 percent more than 2007-08, while the number of faculty and support staff grew by 7 and 6 percent, respectively, during that time.

Total compensation for managers also grew by almost a quarter over those nine years, nearly double the rate of increase for other employees.

Howle slammed the process of providing raises to management employees, which she said broadly lacks adequate evaluation of those employees. At Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, last year, for example, at least 70 managers received raises totaling $175,000 even though they had outdated or no written performance evaluations on file.

The university said it was unfair to penalize someone who is not evaluated by their supervisor in a timely manner. But, Howle wrote, “because they were not supported by current written performance evaluations, some may be undeserved.”

In a response letter, CSU Chancellor Timothy White wrote that management personnel comprise a broad range of employees, many of whom provide direct support to students. He added that there were some staff groups, such as academic student employees and health care support, with a higher growth rate than managers.

“(I)t is important to recognize the CSU’s management staffing levels and administrative costs are lower than other similar higher education institutions both within California and nationally,” White wrote.

The audit also raised problems with how campuses are monitoring their budgets, which Howle said lack oversight on spending levels and fail to specify how state appropriations are being used to improve student success and with how CSU is paying its executives.

As tuition increases, executive compensation has become a sore point for students. While the 23 campus presidents and seven top administrators in the chancellor’s office make up a small portion of CSU’s overall budget, critics argue that high salaries show misplaced priorities.

Howle recommended that CSU eliminate its policy of allowing campuses to augment the pay of their presidents with money from foundations because it “could create the appearance of a conflict of interest.” She also urged the university to put a cap on what it will reimburse for executive moving expenses, since more than a third of those relocations since 2008 had cost in excess of $25,000.

A group of California State University students, including some from Sac State, rallied Monday morning in support of faculty seeking a 5 percent raise and threatening to walk off the job in April. In a report released Monday as part of a mandatory

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff