The California State University Office of the Chancellor has understated the annual compensation of San Francisco State University President Robert Corrigan by as much as $52,787, a CalWatchdog investigation has found. Corrigan, who announced in August that he’ll retire at the end of the academic year, took home a whopping $423,536 for the tax period of July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010.
On its 2009-10 federal tax return, the San Francisco State University Foundation reported Corrigan’s base salary of $339,724, a figure substantially higher than the $298,749 base salary disclosed by the Chancellor’s Office. As a foundation director, Corrigan is required by law to list additional perks and benefits. Under Schedule J of Form 990, Corrigan listed $10,000 in retirement benefits, $1,812 in nontaxable benefits and $72,000 in ”other reportable compensation,” which would be equivalent to the combined value of a college president’s car and housing allowances.
San Francisco State University did not respond to requests for an explanation of the $50,000 discrepancy. The Cal State Chancellor’s Office has also refused multiple requests for the total compensation of all 23 campus presidents.
In 2009-10, it took the tuition of 106 SFSU students to pay Corrigan’s high salary and lavish benefits. Cal State presidents receive more in housing and car allowances than 3,888 professors receive in total pay, according to data from the Cal State Chancellor’s Office.
Cal State Hid Half Million Dollar Compensation for Cal State LA President
Cal State’s executive compensation data is publicly available from four sources: university foundation documents, the Cal State Chancellor’s Office, California State Controller’s pay database and an independent analysis conducted by an outside consulting firm, Mercer. Each of these independent sources provides a different compensation figure for the college presidents.
Chancellor’s Office Data: First Set of Books
Following last year’s public outcry over Hirschman’s $400,000 base salary, Cal State created a special webpage to publicize its executive compensation policies. “As a public institution, the California State University is committed to being as open and transparent to the public as possible,” the website reads. “In response to recent discussions about the California State University’s executive compensation policies and practices, we have created this central page to make the documents related to those policies more readily accessible.”
The webpage contains an executive compensation summary, titled “2011/2012 CSU Executive Compensation Summary.” This summarizing document lists Corrigan’s base salary as $298,749 per year, plus a $60,000 housing allowance. It excludes any reference to a car allowance or other non-taxable perks.
However, the Cal State Chancellor’s Office does disclose the car allowance in a separate, albeit hidden, section of its website. Based on all of the available data from the Chancellor’s Office, including the base salary and allowances for housing and car, the public is left to believe Corrigan’s total compensation reaches $370,749 per year.
State Controller’s Data: Close But Not Exact to CSU’s Low Figure
Cal State’s total figure is within a few thousand dollars of the total compensation disclosed to the California State Controller’s Office, which maintains a database of public employee salaries. According to the State Controller’s pay database, San Francisco State University’s president receives $368,699 in total compensation. But, the Controller’s base pay differs substantially from the Cal State’s figure.
According to the State Controller, SFSU’s presidential base pay is $356,366 per year in contrast to the CSU’s $298,749. The State Controller also identifies $12,333 in annual health, dental and vision benefits. Both figures are approximately $50,000 lower than the compensation disclosed to the IRS.
Independent Mercer Report
The new revelations also prove embarrassing to the Mercer Consulting firm, the independent analysts hired to conduct a “Presidents’ Compensation Study.” According to the March 2011 report produced by Mercer consultants Stephen Pollack, Xander Marin-Stein and Tom Langle, San Francisco State’s president received $298,749 in salary, or 43 percent less than the market average.
“Mercer was retained by the California State University (CSU) Office of the Chancellor to conduct an independent, third party survey of compensation, specified benefits and perquisites for the position of campus president,” reads the opening line of the March 2011 report.
The Mercer Report twice claims that Cal State provides no incentives to its presidents, which is refuted by the IRS documents. “CSU does not offer its presidents any short-or long-term incentive programs,” the consultants wrote on page 11 of the report. The report continued on page 12: “CSU does not offer incentives, and therefore its total cash compensation is equivalent to base salary.”
Yee and Portantino Demand Answers
Responding to CalWatchdog’s first report, two Democratic state legislators called on CSU Chancellor Charles Reed “to come clean with a complete and detailed look at just how CSU executives are paid.” In a March 13 letter, Assemblymember Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, and Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, urged CSU to end its repeated attempts to mislead the public about the total compensation of its top executives.
“Despite repeated attempts to ferret out the truth, recent news reports suggest that CSU officials continue to conceal details about excessive compensation for campus presidents – including tens of thousands of dollars in perks such as housing, car allowances, and retirement and health benefits,” the legislators wrote. “At a time when students are being forced out by rising tuition and cutbacks in classes, it is not right to be giving administrators these hefty salaries and perks.”
In addition to their letter, Portantino and Yee have proposed legislation to limit the excessive compensation of high-ranking government employees. Portantino’s AB 1787 would freeze compensation for public employees making more than $100,000 a year. Yee’s SB 967 would prohibit raises for top executives during bad budget years or within two years of a student fee hike.
Both legislators have a long history of championing government openness and transparency. Last year, Portantino led the effort to force the state Assembly to disclose its total operating budget. On January 1, new legislation authored by Yee took effect that expanded the state’s Public Records Act to include the University of California, Cal State and the community college auxiliaries and foundations.
For copies of San Francisco State University Foundation’s tax documents, click here.
John Hrabe is a regular contributor to CalWatchdog.com and the editorials pages of the Orange County Register.