It’s Good to be President

At Humboldt State, small enrollment doesn’t mean small paycheck



Humboldt State's head honcho Rollin C. Richmond is raking it in as one of the highest-paid California State University presidents, despite Humboldt's near-last position on the enrollment charts.

Richmond made $297,870 last year, making him the eighth-highest-paid president in the 23-school CSU system. HSU places 20th in enrollment, with 7,903 students, but Richmond makes more than the presidents of Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge, which each have more than three times as many students -- 30,000 plus.

"God it's ridiculous," said HSU psychology senior Katie Voskuyl. "What about the teachers? The amount of money he makes should totally be cut in half. The money could go to programs, it could go to teachers ...  it could go to homeless people."

Richmond wouldn't hear it. "Let's point out that these salaries are in fact not outlandish. They are low in comparison to comparable institutions," he said. In addition to his $297,870 salary, Richmond cashes in on a $50,000 annual housing allowance, and perhaps sweetest of all, a $1,000 monthly transportation allowance.

"He already has a job, why does he need that?" wondered Voskuyl, who is contemplating applying for student loans to make it through the undergraduate program. "If he lives in Arcata, maybe he could get in shape and bike."

There is no hard-and-fast rule that determines what a CSU president makes, said CSU spokesperson Mike Uhlenkamp. Experience, skill set, university size, and university programs all play a role in shaping salaries, he said. A data analysis by the Journal shows no consistent correlation between presidential pay and number of students, length of employment, or school budget. Richmond, who has been president of HSU since 2002, makes more money than Milton Gordon, the president of Cal State Fullerton, who oversees 35,000 students and has worked there since 1990. The president of San Francisco State, Robert Corrigan, who oversees 29,700 students and has held that post since 1988, makes just $1,000 more than Richmond.

Richmond's salary has risen by almost a third since he took the job in 2002. From the initial $230,016 annual haul, raises in 2005, 2006 and 2007 brought the total to just a couple grand short of $300,000.

Richmond said that throughout his tenure, price negotiations have been minimal. "I didn't fight for a particular salary level. I was offered a particular salary," he said. "Should my salary be $10,000 higher or lower? Possibly. Would it make a much of a difference?" Sounding annoyed, Richmond explained that it's the national market for people interested in working in administration at universities that determines salaries, not the leadership of the CSU system. "What is anyone worth?" Richmond said. "How do you know how much you're worth?"

CSU Chancellor Charles Reed and the Board of Trustees recently stirred things up when they hired Elliot Hirshman to take the helm at San Diego State. Hirshman will pocket a cool $350,000 annually, plus $50,000 from the San Diego State University Foundation. That's $100,000 more than Hirshman's predecessor earned at the same job. The same day, in a bitterly ironic twist, the chancellor and trustees raised student tuition ...  again.

Administrators' pay is a drop in the CSU financial bucket, Richmond said, and isn't connected with increasing student fees. The upside of increased tuition throughout the CSU system, he said, is that compared with the national average, public higher education in California is still a phenomenal deal. The increase in fees merely brings CSU students closer to what students nationally are paying. "A degree from the CSU is still worth far more than the tuition you pay into it," Richmond said. "You're still getting a great bargain." 

When Richmond earned his undergraduate degree in zoology at San Diego State University in the 1960s, he paid slightly more than $100 every year. Now, CSU students pay an average of $4,440. While that may be more affordable than many universities, CSU Employees Union president Pat Gantt said that the price is already too high for many would-be students. Simultaneously raising the price of education for students and raising the salaries for some of the CSU system's highest paid employees is "just nonsense," he said. Hiring Hirshman for $400,000 right now "seems really insensitive to the staff and people I represent, and the students especially, who are being asked to pay more." He said that Hirshman's plus-sized salary also invites pay envy from the other CSU presidents. "Where do you draw the line?" Gantt said. "Is $405,000 too much? $410,000?"

Richmond's last raise, in 2007, turned heads among local union workers, said Rocky Waters, vice president of the Humboldt chapter of the employees union. He calculated that the $27,079 raise was more than what 95 percent of local union employees earned annually. That sort of figure doesn't escape the attention of average workers on campus, Waters said. "You know, they hired Hirshman, and then just announced layoffs at Stanislaus and Fresno," he said. "The perception is that the CSU wants to put the money into the highest level executives rather than the people on the line making the university run on a daily basis."

Watching the highest-paid CSU employees get raises on top of all their perks and benefits is especially painful for staffers who haven't gotten raises in years, said local employee union representative Jerry Saner. "I think what frustrates us most is when we hear we have to pay that kind of compensation to get that kind of management," Saner said. "What are we, chopped liver? We should all get the same kind of raises."

Legislators too are fed up with the executive pay. State Sen. Leland Yee,  D-San Francisco and San Mateo, introduced a bill two years ago that would have banned pay increases for top CSU and University of California administrators in years when those institutions' budget allocations did not increase. The bill passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support, and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promptly vetoed it.

Yee thought the CSU Board of Trustees and the UC Board of Regents got the message in 2009, according to his Chief of Staff Adam Keigwin. "Senator Yee could not have imagined in a thousand years that they would, in light of the current economic situation, go and increase any executives' pay, never mind their top executives', never mind to the degree of extravagance that they did," Keigwin said. Yee has announced that he will reintroduce the bill when the Legislature meets in two weeks.



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