The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.".... ...Aristotle.
 

Commentary of the Day - May 25, 2007: Ethically Challenged and Tone Deaf in the CSU.


Several months ago --
July 21, 2006 to be exact -- the Irascible Professor posted a commentary outlining questionable compensation practices for high-ranking officials in the California State University System.  These practices have been employed by the system's Chancellor, Charlie Reed, to grant millions of dollars in extra compensation to campus presidents and to cronies of Reed at the system's headquarters in Long Beach upon their retirement or departure from the system.  These six-figure payouts for "consulting" work or "special projects" have been so egregiously out of line with what ordinary faculty and staff members in the California State University system earn that the California Legislature is taking hard look a legislation that would end the practice.

Faculty members found it particularly galling that such huge bonuses were being handed out at time when faculty salaries lagged national averages by significant percentages, and at a time when the faculty union was locked in protracted negotiations over a new contract after they had gone without raises for three years.  During that three year period, Reed and other high-ranking administrators were granted hefty pay raises.  For example, in 2005 Reed received a $45,808 increase in his salary (14.5%) and a $3,000 increase in his car allowance.  Reed's total compensation increase in 2005 was about the same as the starting salary for a new assistant professor in the system at the time.

The CSU administration was particularly intransigent in its opposition to the faculty union's demands for salary increases that would have brought the system closer to the average salaries for comparable positions in similar public universities.  Finally, after more than two years of unproductive negotiations an impasse was declared and an independent fact finder was appointed.  The independent fact finder's report ended up supporting the union's position on the vast majority of points in contention.  Only then did the CSU administration agree to a contract that gave the union most of what it had requested.

But that was not the end of the matter.  Apparently, the Chancellor was not amused by the inability of his negotiating team to prevail.  Shortly after the close of negotiations, two key members of the Chancellor's human relations staff were gone.  Sam Strafaci, the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Human Relations who was particularly antagonistic towards faculty and staff unions, was fired and escorted out of the CSU headquarters building.  Shortly after that Vice Chancellor for Human Relations, Jackie R. McClain, announced that she was leaving the Chancellor's Office for Cal State Chico.  It was not clear from McClain's farewell message what position she would be taking at Chico.  McClain holds a law degree from the University of Kansas and has worked primarily in human resources positions in higher education.  She was earning close to $250,000 per year at the Chancellor's Office, so it will be interesting to find out how much she will be paid for her assignment at Chico.  This could be another case where the Chancellor grants a relatively lucrative faculty position to one of his departing staffers who has no significant academic background.  It also will be interesting to see if the CSU's approach to collective bargaining will be less confrontational in the future.

[Update: We have learned that for the next two years McClain will be assisting Chico's president with "special projects".]

In another example of tone deafness in the CSU, the IP has learned of a dustup at Cal State Fresno that largely has escaped notice by the California media.  According to an April 13, 2007 article in the Fresno Bee, it seems that the owner of the Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis, CA has filed a court challenge to plans by the Cal State Fresno Association (a non-profit auxiliary of the university) to build a 40-acre commercial center called Campus Pointe on property owned by Cal State Fresno.  This center would include 540 apartments, a 200-room hotel, 230,000 square feet of retail and office space, and a 14-screen movie theater complex.

Apparently the major bone of contention is the movie theater complex, which would be in direct competition with a 16-screen theater complex at Sierra Vista Mall that opened last December only three miles from the proposed Campus Pointe development.  The lawsuit raises a number of interesting issues including whether university land, which the university claims is exempt from city planning and zoning regulations, should be used for primarily commercial purposes.  But most interesting is the fact that the proposed movie theater complex at Campus Pointe would be operated by Maya Cinemas.  It turns out that well-known movie producer Moctesuma Esparza is a major shareholder in Maya Cinemas.  It also turns out that at the time the CSU Board of Trustees approved the Campus Pointe deal, Mr. Esparza was a member of the Board of Trustees.

Although there are fairly strict conflict-of-interest regulations that apply to members of the Board of Trustees, it was the opinion of the CSU legal staff that Esparza did not have a conflict of interest because his contract was with the developer Kashian Enterprises rather than directly with the university or its auxiliary.  However, the legal staff informed Esparza that he would have to abstain from the vote on the project, which he did.  To the IP this position seems contradictory.  If Esparza had no conflict of interest, why was it necessary for him to abstain from voting on the issue.  And if he was required to abstain from voting, doesn't that mean that the CSU lawyers were concerned about the appearance of a conflict in this case?

Now the CSU legal staff may have been technically correct in informing Esparza that he had no conflict of interest, but it sure seems to the IP that a reasonable person might infer at least the appearance of a conflict.  After all, the Trustees are a chummy bunch.  Interestingly enough, Esparza resigned his position on the Board of Trustees in early May.

Esparza has a long history of public service and support for charitable organizations, so the IP is a bit puzzled as to why he did not recognize that his involvement with the Campus Pointe project -- no matter how well-intentioned -- would raise questions.

 

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© 2007 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.
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