California State University officials are proposing to lift restrictions on pay raises for campus presidents that were imposed after a series of controversial salary hikes drew complaints from students and lawmakers.

The proposal will be discussed during a meeting of the Board of Trustees in Long Beach, where the governing board will also get a first look at the preliminary 2016-17 support budget. The university system will seek an additional $295 million in state funding.

The current compensation policy was drafted in 2012, in the midst of a recession that saw the 23-campus system cut enrollment and student services even as tuition rose.

Despite the cost-cutting, trustees also approved pay increases for newly hired presidents, including compensation for the incoming San Diego State president that was $100,000 more than his predecessor — set during a meeting when they also approved a 12% tuition hike.

After an outcry, the system adopted a policy to  freeze compensation paid with state funds while allowing a 10% increase paid from private donations.

With an improving economy, those restrictions are no longer needed, according to a staff report.

Cal State officials have long argued that salaries should be based in part on those offered by similar institutions to attract the most qualified individuals in a competitive market.

“The current policy creates the potential for inequity and for limiting the pool of finalists for Board consideration for these vital positions,” the report said.

New compensation guidelines for all employees would consider campus location, enrollment, operating budget and research funding, as well as the candidate's experience and skills. 

Scuttling the salary restrictions could have immediate consequences. Four campus presidents have recently announced their departure or retirement.

Former San Jose State president Mohammad Qayoumi stepped down in August to become the chief advisor for infrastructure and technology to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. Susan W. Martin, previously president of Eastern Michigan University, was appointed interim president.

Paul J. Zingg, president of California State University, Chico, for 13 years, announced last month that he would retire at the end of the current academic year.

On the same day, Richard R. Rush, who has led the Channel Islands campus since its opening in 2002, announced that he too would retire at the end of the 2015-16 academic year.

And Sonoma State University President Ruben Arminana will retire at the end of the school year after serving 24 years.

Trustees are scheduled to consider the pay raise proposal at a future board meeting.

Meanwhile, the 2016-17 preliminary budget will seek $295 million in additional state funding, which would allow a 3% increase in enrollment growth -- or about 12,000 students.

The proposed request is $137.4 million more than the amount proposed under Gov. Jerry Brown’s multi-year funding plan, which would accommodate about 4,300 new students, or a 1% increase.

Under Cal State's plan, about $50 million of the total would be used for programs to help students stay in school and graduate more quickly; $25 million would go toward urgent maintenance and upgrades; $68 million would be used to increase employee compensation; and $46 million would go toward mandatory costs such as health and pensions.  

In recent years, from 22,000 to 32,000 qualified students have been denied admission because of insufficient state funding, according to Cal State officials.

The board is scheduled to meet Tuesday and Wednesday.


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