UC Berkeley and UCLA professors who have called for an investigation into newspaper allegations of hidden university employee compensation practices say they are not satisfied with the university’s response.
“A lot of faculty members are disturbed about the clumsy way in which the UC president’s office has handled this matter,” said Bruce Fuller, UC Berkeley Education and Public Policy Professor, who is the spokesman for his colleagues. “Thus far, the president’s office either doesn’t realize the severity of the problem, or else it’s consciously not being very open and honest in the way they are responding to the concerns.”
Fuller added that he was encouraged by communications with members of a two-person investigative task force appointed by UC President Robert Dynes, including a possible expansion of the task force to include members recommended by professors.
In an e-mailed statement sent out from Dynes’ office, university officials said, “We take very seriously our obligation to be publicly accountable and as transparent as possible. ... We expect that [the president’s] actions and reviews, along with the other steps UC has taken recently, will address the faculty’s concerns for objective and thorough assessments of our policies and practices. If subsequent reviews or audits appear warranted, though, then we will certainly consider them.”
Amatullah Alajie-Sabrie, a spokesperson for the Coalition of University Employees (CUE) union that represents many of the university’s non-faculty employees, said that her organization was “encouraged that faculty members have stepped forward on this issue. The university needs to be questioned on the policies of overpaid administrators. We’ve been calling for such accountability and transparency in university actions for quite a while.”
In addition, state Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria), vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, has called for committee hearings into the university compensation issue.
The war of words between the university and the ad hoc professors’ group began after a series of articles appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in mid-November, charging that many highly-paid university employees were getting additional compensation packages not publicly reported by the university.
“In addition to salaries and overtime, payroll records obtained by the Chronicle show that employees received a total of $871 million in bonuses, administrative stipends, relocation packages and other forms of cash compensation last fiscal year,” the newspaper reported. It added that $599 million in last year’s “extra compensation” went to more than 8,500 employees “who each got at least $20,000 over their regular salaries.”
The Chronicle articles came at a particularly sensitive time for the university, with regents simultaneously looking into seeking private funding to boost upper-level salaries and voting stiff fee increases for undergraduate, graduate, and professional school students.
In response, Dynes’ office put up a web site to counter the Chronicle allegations. In addition, Dynes initiated an internal review of academic hiring practices by the university auditor, and set up a task “to consider ways to improve our public disclosure policies and internal practices regarding compensation and other personnel-related matters.”
Initially, that task force consisted of UC Regent Joanne Kozberg of Los Angeles and former Regent and California Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg. No specific timetable was released to the public for a report for the task force.
In part, the university’s website argues that senior management salaries throughout the university are below market, that many of the top earners at the university are getting funds from sources other than the state, and that “spending on administration is actually declining.”
That hasn’t satisfied the petitioning professors.
According to Fuller, “the hallway conversation and e-mail traffic” among UC Berkeley faculty members about the compensation controversy began with the publication of the Chronicle stories. Fuller said those conversations spread to colleagues at UCLA, who were upset over the controversy involving the investigation into allegations of conflict of interest by Provost and Senior Vice President M.R.C. Greenwood.
Earlier this week, in a petition signed by 26 UC Berkeley and UCLA professors that was faxed to UC Board of Regents Chair Gerald Parsky, the ad hoc group of professors pointed at “a number of questionable decisions by the University’s highest administrators. Although it remains unclear which of these allegations—pertaining to secret compensation deals, bonuses, huge relocation allowances, and other perquisites—are factually true and reasonable, the evidence that is now in the public domain raises a number of disturbing issues to those of us who care deeply about the university’s credibility and long-term vitality.”
The faculty members urged Parsky to “appoint a truly independent investigator to uncover which of these allegations are true, justifiable, or simply indefensible. With all due respect, what informed California citizen is going to believe that current or former regents are truly independent of this administration?”
“We’re not prejudging the university’s actions on compensation,” Fuller said. “We want to have a panel of truly objective analysts with no ties to the Regents.”
Fuller said that faculty members were concerned that both Kozberg and Hertzberg were too close to the university to be objective. He also decried the internal audit, saying that “this is a lot like asking Karl Rove to investigate CIA intelligence.” Fuller called the internal audit “somewhat of a joke.”
But he said he is pleased that both Kozberg and Hertzberg “to their credit have each called us to indicate that they understand the issue and are not going to be biased.”
Fuller said that Hertzberg, a recent unsuccessful candidate for Mayor of Los Angeles, “has asked us to suggest appointees to the task force. He didn’t make a commitment to appointing anyone we suggest, but he did say he would look at the names.”
The professors in the ad hoc group are currently looking at possible appointees to suggest to the two task force members. Fuller said that the petition is continuing to circulate, moving to campuses beyond Berkeley and Los Angeles, and now contains close to 70 signatures.