published in the SACRAMENTO BEE  February 22, 2006 (Op-Ed page B7)

Commentary: UC regents skip faculty's lesson

By Charles Schwartz -- Special To The Bee

How can we understand the recent scandalous revelations about excessive executive pay and perks at the University of California? I think it arises from the Board of Regents, who behave as if UC were just another big business enterprise - where the top executives are naturally thought to deserve extremes of pay. They don't understand how a university is a very different kind of institution.

In 1992, UC President David Gardner announced his retirement - and then someone up high spilled the beans about the $1 million package the regents promised Gardner behind closed doors. This came during a recession when UC was cutting back classes and raising student fees astronomically. Amid all the public noise over the revelation of Gardner's package, the faculty at UC Berkeley held a special meeting of their Academic Senate and passed a resolution. I helped write that statement.

What follows is the Academic Senate's resolution approved in 1992. What a pity the higher-ups paid no attention to the faculty's views then - or now - as judged by the current uproar about UC's administrative compensation.

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     The current controversy over large salaries, perquisites and retirement benefits provided to top executives of the University of California raises a number of questions of deep concern to the faculty. In what follows we wish to be understood as passing judgment not on the validity of any past contractual commitments nor on the value of any individual university administrator, but rather on general principles which we believe ought to guide administrative policies henceforward.

     The central claim has been that these high levels of compensation for top administrators in the university are appropriate, in view of the large size and complexity of this institution, and necessary in order to be competitive in recruiting the best talent available for the job. We believe these views are based upon standards derived from the commercial sector, standards which are fundamentally inappropriate to the academic world, and especially wrong for a publicly funded university.

     In private business making a dollar is the definition of success, and so the most successful chief executives are paid top dollar. In the university, however, we have fundamentally different values. Professors are quite accustomed to seeing their students go on to the world of commerce and earn much higher salaries than their teachers get; but we have chosen to devote ourselves to the calling of scholarship. This commitment is what makes the university so valuable to society, and this value cannot be measured in dollars.

     It may not be too severe to say that a university president who is dissatisfied with her/his salary is a university president who should look for another job. Yet, we also recognize that any individual administrator would be foolish to settle for less than the going rate. What we are faced with is an inflated market based upon distorted priorities; and our present goal is to renormalize this situation.

     We need not elaborate on our own unhappiness upon learning of the rich payments given to top executives of this university during a time when the salaries of all staff members, including ourselves, have been frozen.

     This controversy also has multiple impacts upon our students. In terms of fairness, it is difficult to see how increasing benefits for top administrators can be reconciled with a decreasing budget - when students are required to finance a major portion of the deficit. In terms of education, it undercuts our efforts to impart the virtues of knowledge, critical thinking and intellectual creativity - when the almighty dollar is held up as the principal measure of the worth of university leaders.

     Beyond protest, however, we take this opportunity to declare a position of principle, as follows, which we advocate for adoption by the Regents of the University of California and by the governing bodies of all other universities as well: It should be the policy of any institution of higher learning that the total compensation paid to any executive officer should not exceed twice the average amount paid to its Full Professors.

RESOLUTION: The Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate of the University of California endorses the preceding statement and directs its chair to circulate copies of this statement, along with appropriate supporting documents, to faculty leaders at the other campuses of this university and, to the extent feasible, at other major universities across the country.
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- Faculty statement, approved at the May 6, 1992, special meeting of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate of the University of California

About the writer:
Charles Schwartz is professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Reach him at