Editorials

Forget Linda Katehi’s salary. That’s not the real faculty pay outrage.

Students and supporters protest outside of the California State University Office of the Chancellor as the CSU Trustees finance committee vote on a tuition increase on a 7 to 2 vote in Long Beach in March. (Thomas R. Cordova/Los Angeles Daily News via AP)
Students and supporters protest outside of the California State University Office of the Chancellor as the CSU Trustees finance committee vote on a tuition increase on a 7 to 2 vote in Long Beach in March. (Thomas R. Cordova/Los Angeles Daily News via AP) AP

It’s easy to be outraged at Linda P.B. Katehi’s new salary. Having resigned amid high drama from her error-prone chancellorship at UC Davis, the tenured professor this fall will return to teaching – a single course per quarter at a substantial $318,200 a year.

Nice work if you can get it, and a fraction of the course load undertaken by other distinguished professors in her department. If Katehi’s CV weren’t so long, and if Acting Chancellor Ralph Hexter – succeeded Tuesday by Chancellor Gary May – hadn’t been constrained by her tenure and a requirement to adhere to an “academic process” in setting her return pay, we, too, might be furious at this week’s reports by The Bee’s Diana Lambert and Sam Stanton.

But legally, and under the university’s “shared governance” system, Hexter and the campus provosts and deans who advised him had to calculate her new salary on the same terms the university would apply to any engineering professor with her résumé and stature.

To obsess on Katehi’s salary is to miss a far more consequential faculty pay outrage. Hers is just one paycheck, after all.

Say what you will about her ability to manage a campus; Katehi is a star scholar, with membership in the exclusive National Academy of Engineering, a formidable body of research and 19 patents. The faculty would have revolted had her compensation been less than the department’s other two, male, NAE members.

So her new salary falls between the current pay of those peers, and below the salaries of comparable professors at UC San Diego, UCLA and UC Santa Barbara. Once she gets re-acclimated to the classroom UC Davis should insist on a comparable workload; one class per quarter isn’t close to enough.

But to obsess on Katehi’s salary is to miss a far more consequential faculty pay outrage. Hers is just one paycheck, after all.

Over at the Cal State system, the 10.5 percent raise being shelled out over three years to the 26,000 members of the California Faculty Association is effectively costing each and every returning student an extra $270 a year in tuition.

And unlike Katehi’s pay, the Cal State labor tab comes larded with hypocrisy.

Faculty union members knew as they threatened to strike in 2016 that the system already had been tasked with expensive marching orders, from improving its abysmal four-year graduation rates to enrolling more Californians. They could have been big and put the students first, but no. They threatened anyway.

Cal State trustees gave them their raise, though it was obviously a stretch. Legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown could have covered the tab, but the CSU appropriation was hefty as it was, and bigger faculty paychecks have never been at the top of Brown’s higher-ed to-do list.

Trustees anticipated the shortfall, which is why they raised tuition in March, promising to rescind if they got full funding. When full funding didn’t materialize, the tuition increase remained so that at least the graduation rate initiative wouldn’t die.

And when students complained, guess who attacked CSU as if they’d had nothing to do with the pay deal that sucked up two-thirds of the $177.2 million in recurring funds the state gave the system: legislative leaders who didn’t bail CSU out and faculty organizers whose demands depleted the bank.

There are arguments for increasing Cal State’s tuition, which is still a national bargain and still mostly covered for poorer students via institutional aid and Cal Grants. And nobody wants to underpay – or overpay – public employees.

But at some point, Californians need make some hard choices about what we’re willing to ante up for a 21st century workforce and then own their decisions. It’s time to get beyond the easy outrage.

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