Hirshman, CSU defend $400K salary

Last week, many Cal State University students were left confused about their university’s educational priorities when the CSU Board of Trustees awarded San Diego State President Elliot Hirshman a $400,000 salary while increasing student fees by 12 percent.

CSU Media Relations Specialist Erik Fallis said that while presidential salaries may seem enormous at face value, they account for less than half a percent of the total CSU budget.

In comparison to how much is spent on instruction, student services and academic support, Fallis said the amount spent compensating university presidents “doesn’t even rank.” SDSU has an annual budget of $352 million.

During the Board of Trustees meeting in which Hirshman’s salary was approved, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom pointed out the political implications of making such a decision in the wake of the budget crisis.

“It’s not the right time,” Newsom said. “I think it sends a very challenging message.”

Hirshman agreed on that point.

“I agree the timing was problematic,” he said to the Daily 49er in an email. “[But] my wife and I accepted the Trustees’ offer and will be doing everything we possibly can to support the students, faculty and staff of San Diego State University.”

The Board of Trustees hires all executives and determines their salaries after negotiation.

“Once the decision has been made, there is a conversation that happens between the Chancellor and the candidate coming in,” Fallis said regarding salary negotiations. “There are a number of factors.”

Hirshman believes his qualifications merit the salary he negotiated with the Board.

“I think having a wide breadth of academic and administrative experience, including an advanced degree, experience as a tenured faculty member, substantial prior budget responsibility, and a demonstrated commitment to diversity initiatives, is very beneficial for this position,” Hirshman said.

Hirshman also served as chief research officer at George Washington University and chaired the psychology department there as well as the University of Colorado at Denver.

Currently, the SDSU president is paid the highest salary of any CSU president, followed by San Luis Obispo’s Jeffery Armstrong, who earns $380,000 annually.

Cal State Los Angeles President James Rosser, the third highest paid CSU president, earns $372,484.

The lowest paid president in the CSU system is Dianne Harrison of CSU Monterey Bay, with a salary of $267,468.

Fallis explained that the amount of compensation CSU presidents receive is actually about 52% lower than what is given to presidents of comparable institutions nationwide, such as Arizona and Cleveland State, according to the 2011 Mercer Report, a study on presidential compensation.

Even in terms of total renumeration, which includes non-cash benefits such as retirement packages and medical benefits in addition to salary, CSU presidents are still compensated about 26 percent less than their comparative counterparts.

“[The president’s] job is just so immense in a lot of ways,” Fallis said. “I know when I was a student our president was working almost all the time. The job is pretty 24/7.”

In the last 4 years, no CSU president has seen a pay increase, added Fallis.

Hirshman said that it was essential for presidents to maintain a broad commitment to the university’s mission and the local community.

“CSU presidents need to work with each other, as well as colleagues throughout higher education, to help ensure access and excellence for all of our students,” Hirshman said.

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