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

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"Arrogance invites ruin; humility receives benefits."... ...Chinese proverb. I-ching (Book of Changes)....

Commentary of the Day - July 21, 2006: It's Time for Charlie Reed to Go!

The Irascible Professor never ceases to be amazed by the arrogance exhibited by the current Chancellor of the California State University System, Charlie Reed.  Whatever the man may lack in academic qualifications, he makes up for in chutzpah.  This week San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporter Jim Doyle published two articles that provided the public with details on "millions of dollars worth of extra compensation [that] has been handed out to California State University campus presidents and other top executives -- without public disclosure by the chancellor and the university's Board of Trustees."

Using little known compensation provisions approved some 14 years ago by the Board of Trustees, Reed has quietly awarded extra compensation in various forms to campus presidents who have retired or who have resigned to take positions elsewhere, as well as to other high-ranking system executives.  As Doyle notes, "These [extra perks], which are not available to rank-and-file employees, have been handed out [during a period] when students have seen their tuition costs increase by 76 percent."  The extra compensation has come in three forms.  Some departing executives have been awarded "transition pay" for up to a year after they have left the system.  Some retiring campus presidents have been given lucrative "consulting" contracts or pay for "special projects" in addition to the substantial retirement income they receive.  Still other executives with little or no experience in teaching or scholarship have been awarded tenured full professorships at system campuses even though they don't meet the standard criteria for tenure.

David Spence, who served as the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, left a year ago to become president of the Southern Regional Education Board -- a position that pays $225,000 per year.  Spence was granted $173,952 in "transitional pay" from the CSU system, approximately 70% of what he earned as Vice Chancellor.  In return for this "transitional pay",  Spence provided "consulting" to the system that consisted of a few telephone calls with Chancellor Reed.

Peter P. Smith, who served as president of the Cal State Monterey Bay campus from 1995 to 2005 resigned in 2005 to take a well-paying position with UNESCO in Paris.  Smith was drawing a salary of over $207,000 when he left Monterey Bay.  He was kept on the California State University payroll for a year after he left the Monterey Bay post at a salary of $157,932 even though he already was working for UNESCO.  In return for that $157,932 the taxpayers of California got nothing, nada, zip!  Smith didn't even make a phone call to dear old Charlie Reed.

An article by Eric Stern in the Sacramento Bee reported on the details of the extra compensation granted to Donald Gerth, who retired from the presidency of Sacramento State University in 2005 with an annual pension of $267,000.  Gerth was given a five-year assignment to write a history of the California State University system.  That deal included a yearly salary of $54,372 in addition to his pension along with a $36,000 yearly stipend for expenses and clerical support.  To put that deal in perspective, a newly hired assistant professor of history would be paid an annual salary in the neighborhood of $54,000, and might expect a few hundred dollars for research expenses.  In return for his or her salary, the newly hired assistant professor who is working toward tenure would be expected to teach four courses each semester and carry out scholarly research that would result in one or more books and several scholarly articles in a six-year period.  While a comprehensive history of the California State University system might be useful, $451,860 is hardly a reasonable price to pay for the preparation of a book that might sell a few thousand copies at best.

In another example of Charlie Reed's administrative excesses, Jim Doyle reports that several high ranking employees who have had little or no teaching experience and have produced little or nothing in the way of serious scholarship have been guaranteed tenured full professorships at system campuses when they leave the Chancellor's Office.  For example the system's chief counsel, Christine Helwick, is a lawyer who has never taught a college course nor produced a scholarly book or article.  Yet she will receive a tenured full professorship along with a paid "transitional year" when she leaves.

The Chancellor and system representatives have claimed that all of these "perks" are perfectly legal; and, indeed they may be legal, but in this writer's opinion they don't pass the smell test.  The IP would guess that most California taxpayers would say that while what the Chancellor has done might be legal, it certainly isn't ethical.  In essence, Charlie Reed has given taxpayers the bird.  They have ponied up their hard-earned money to fund the California State University system so that their sons and daughters will have a chance at a decent college education at reasonable cost.  Instead, Reed has skimmed millions off the top of the CSU budget to give extra benefits to people who already are paid quite well.  Reed argues that salaries for his campus presidents and top executives are not comparable to those at some other universities.  That may well be true but, on the other hand, there is no shortage of applicants for these positions when they open up.

Reed also has gone out of his way to insult the rank-and-file faculty members in the system by granting tenured full professorships to executives who clearly have not earned these positions.  Almost all tenured full professors in the system have earned a Ph.D. or similar advanced degree through years of study, they in almost all cases have ten or more years of full-time teaching experience and an extensive portfolio of scholarly work.  Helwick has claimed that her "life experience" at the Chancellor's Office warrants her appointment to a tenured full professorship.  That might pass muster with Charlie Reed who has precious little in the way of academic achievements himself, but again for most of the folks who toil in the CSU trenches it just doesn't pass the smell test.  Instead it reads a lot like those spam email messages from diploma mills that promise you an advanced degree based on your "life experiences" as long as you send a check.

Most of Reed's actions with regard to these extra perks were taken without any public discussion by the CSU Board of Trustees.  He, instead, simply informed the Board's chair of his actions.  This is a clear indication that these were actions that were intended to be kept from public scrutiny.

Reed's actions serve only to lower public respect for the California State University system and to make the already low morale of the faculty and staff lower yet.  It's time for him to go.


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© 2006 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.
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