New SDSU President's $400K Salary Is Raising Eyebrows

Reactions from Aztec students, staff and alumni vary about President Elliot Hirshman's recently approved salary package. One student calls it "adding insult to injury."

New San Diego State University President Elliot Hirshman has been in office for little more than a week, and his salary increase has confused and upset some students, staff and alumni.

The California State University budget has been cut regularly for several years, including the upcoming 2011-12 academic year in which another $650 million has been cut. This cut is expected to raise tuition fees by 12 percent.

However, despite this cut, the CSU board of trustees approved a $400,000 salary for Hirshman—an increase of $100,565 from what predecessor Stephen L. Weber made.

“Frankly, I think it's ridiculous,” SDSU student Ariana Torres said. “When UCs and CSUs raise tuition on students in a time where classes and faculty are being cut, giving the new president a raise of that amount only adds insult to injury.”

Another student agreed that raising the SDSU president's salary was not the best decision for the board to make.

"I think his salary seems almost extravagant especially when considering the systematic slashes in school programs," SDSU student Osmar Abad said. "We've been advised to load up on as many classes during the summer sessions as the fall will be severely cut. ... I think he needs to set an example. If Jerry Brown is willing to take a pay cut in his public capacity as the governor of the state, as a leader representing another public institution, Mr. Hirshman would be virtuous to follow his lead."

Not only students, but alumni are finding Hirshman’s salary increase hard to justify.

“As an Aztec alum and small business owner, I'm a bit confused as to how the Board of Regents and state came up with that number,” former SDSU student David Oates said. “When I have a budget shortfall, I don't give myself or other executives a pay raise. They may have good reasons, mind you. But from an outsider, I’m having a hard time understanding it. I hope they explain it in detail. If not, I'll naturally think harder when they call my house to ask for a contribution.”

But SDSU alum Sean Upton, who now works for a private university, said the salary seems “largely reasonable, if that salary is justified based on return on investment in terms of donations to the school, and is sufficiently appropriate compared to other post-secondary public [campuses].”

He added: “Most current college students ... tend to have no idea how much of their education is paid by the state, which usually reinforces the perspective that the biggest tragedy of budget cuts is the hike in fees, when availability, access, quality for students and a secure culture of research and learning for faculty are much more impacting with immediate and lasting damage.”

However, Peter Herman, a professor in the SDSU English Department, called the salary “outrageous.” 

“We are told endlessly that in a time of crisis, everybody must do much more with much less, that everybody must sacrifice. Evidently, that does not apply to the top level of CSU administrators.”

He added: “The fact-finder’s report last year said that the CSU never claimed that they did not have the money to pay faculty the raises stipulated in the previous contract, but instead, they referred to ‘other priorities.’ Now we know what those ‘other priorities’ are.”

Jennifer Osborn July 14, 2011 at 08:43 PM
As the largest university in the CSU system, this doesn't seem like too much to pay for this position. I wonder how the salary compares with other schools of similar size in the rest of the country. You also have to consider that you get what you pay for - if you want a quality president, you have to pay for it. I don't know how one would prove what I'm about to say, but isn't there a possibility that hiring someone with lower qualifications willing to work for a lower salary could end up costing more in the long run? If this guy can run a tight ship and keep costs and spending down, while increasing revenues, perhaps it's worth it to spend an extra $100K. It's like going to a less-expensive, but less-qualified plastic surgeon - sure, you save a few dollars the first time around, but you end up spending more down the road to fix the mess you're left with!
Kathy July 14, 2011 at 09:49 PM
Do I think he or anyone else, as SDSU President deserves $400K? Heck NO! Do I think it is fair for my kids to pay a 12% increase for tuition to pay for it? Heck NO! Do I think Hirshman will do a better job then Weber, who was paid $100K LESS? Heck NO! Same old story, the students get punished, for foolish decisions. My kids will be over $150K in debt by the time they graduate. I guess this is the reward these students receive for just wanting a education. Of course, has anyone thought about, how are these kids suppose to pay back these student loans, when there are no jobs available.
Jenny While July 14, 2011 at 11:02 PM
This is incredibly insulting. Students keep hearing that SDSU and the CSU system as a whole have no money and are trying to the best they can with what little they have. If this were the case, it would make more sense when classes are cut and condensed, even when upper division electives are removed completely. As it stands, I the classes required for my major are only offered in one time slot. If they over lap . . well, that's another semester for me. It sucks, we all suffer, but hey, if the universities aren't doing well, I can understand. Yet when our perfectly good Aztec Center is completely demolished to build a whole new one . . . ya gotta stop and ask yourself, why? If we are on a tight budget, shouldn't we be prioritizing our spending? I mean, that's what normal people do. Maybe it's just me, but if I were put in that position, I totally would have chosen more classes offered in more time slots. Or heck, maybe hire back a few more professors and lower that increasingly ridiculous class size. Just a thought. And then I hear our new president is making $400k? Really? Talk about poor management. Especially with the 12% increase in tuition. I'm going to have to pay $3200 just for the fall semester alone! I don't understand where in the financial planning department an upward arrow in tuition and a downward arrow in quality of education seems like a good idea. But I guess that is why I'm a sociology major and not a business major. Damn.
Jenny While July 14, 2011 at 11:22 PM
But don't you think he should have a probation year to see if you deserves an increase in pay? He got a raise without showing his stripes! I don't know of any other job where that is common practice. If he were doing a good job and really turned the campus around, then yes, I'd agree with you. But investing $100k extra just for promises of improvement seems a little silly in my book.
Jenny While July 14, 2011 at 11:24 PM
Corrections: if HE deserves an increase in pay. Not "you" :)
Jennifer Osborn July 14, 2011 at 11:57 PM
He didn't get a raise....unless I'm reading it wrong. It looks to me like they are paying him more than what they were paying the previous president, but I don't think they said, "Hey, he's been here a whole week - let's give him a raise." This is probably what they agreed upon when he was hired, and the Board of Regents is just now approving it officially.
Jennifer Osborn July 15, 2011 at 12:24 AM
I know it's a big increase in tuition, but California students have been treated pretty well for many, many years with the state subsidizing the cost of higher education - I was one lucky enough to be a beneficiary of that system. If you look at tuition at other state universities across the country, there are many, many that cost waaaay more than SDSU. In-state tuition at Washington State University is more than $9,000 a semester, and their president makes more than $600,000 annually. And it's a smaller school than SDSU. And some say, "Yeah, but it's SDSU." SDSU is gaining quite a reputation as being a very good school. So yes, $3200 is not easy to come by these days, but I'm pretty sure it's a decent deal compared to state universities in other states. In order to build on their reputation and ensure that they can increase revenues, they need a top-notch president. I don't know this guy, and I have no idea if he's worth it - I leave that to the people who review the resumes, check the references, analyze the job market for what a reasonable salary is for this position based on national averages, etc. I can see where it would be troubling to see new construction during these times, but it appears that these student fees were approved by the students just last year. I don't know if you voted, but it looks like you had the opportunity: http://www.thedailyaztec.com/2010/11/new-aztec-center-revamp-clarified/
Janet Blaisdell July 15, 2011 at 01:04 AM
Just to clarify, it is NOT a one time tuition increase. My daughter is entering her senior year at SDSU. When she started fall of 2008, a full time load undergraduate paid (approximately) $1850 in tuition and fees for the first semester. This semester (at least as of last week Friday, it could have gone up again) it is $2995. It's easy for you to defend the salary increase for an incoming president, if you are not effected by it. But the bottom line is that in this economy, college is a luxury that may not even pay off once a student graduates. I believe every student, parent, or professor has the right to feel ripped off since they are ones directly effected.
Alan Stuart July 15, 2011 at 06:56 PM
This is seriously disgusting, that is all I have to say
Charles July 15, 2011 at 07:29 PM
Jennifer, obviously you are no longer in college and therefore, really don't care whether they raise tuition or not. I have 3 kids in college and this 12% will cause a serious financial hardship on them. I don't care who this guy is, no one deserves to receive $400K a year in the economy that our Dear Old Obama has placed us in even further. One person benefits from this $400K income, while over 100,000's of students will pay for it My children will be well over $150K in debt by the time they graduate, and whats even better is there are no jobs out there. How the heck are they suppose to pay these students loans back?
Jenny While July 15, 2011 at 07:38 PM
Here, here.
Kathy July 15, 2011 at 08:29 PM
Well Jeni, Dr. Weber did an excellent job for $300K, so I doubt paying someone who has not proved them self, an additional $100K, just seems ridiculous. This this man who they claim is so wonderful, prove himself for 2 years and then, and only then, should he be considered for a $100K raise. If we start off paying him $400K, then what does he expect for raise in 2 years, another $100K? I say, then start charging the students who are NOT U.S. Citizens tuition, substantially more then they pay now. I am sooooooooooo sick of our schools being over crowded, less teachers and yet we allow anyone to come into our country and take the space that should be for us, the U.S. Citizens. Let me say, I am not just speaking at college level, I am speaking of Kindergarten all the way up through college. I don't think you can argue that this $100K can certainly be spent in a more beneficial direction then one man's salary. However, maybe you can?
Jenny While July 15, 2011 at 08:33 PM
Very valid points. I knew that the Aztec Center was funded from a completely different pool than the classes and teachers, and likewise with the president's income. But, like you said, it is the principle of the matter. The purpose of the university is to educate, and they aren't doing the best they can anymore. The actual classes and teachers, who, seems to me, are the most important aspect of any school and being cut while the other areas of the university are still receiving adequate, and in the case of the president, improved funds. The idealist in me just doesn't think that is right.
Christal Ferris July 15, 2011 at 09:04 PM
Here is my stance: Decline the salary. Show some integrity. People are struggling and taking pay cuts to reduce overall costs in businesses and governments. The mayor of Los Angeles (link below). recently did this and I applaud his effort. Yes they are still paid a lot of money as the positions are important, but still, the intent is good. http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/los_angeles&id=7659488
SanteeMom July 15, 2011 at 10:38 PM
With the cost of tuition going up and up and most people struggling financially, the decision to pay this man $400,000/year is ridiculous! I am sure that the extra $100,000/year over the last president's salary good go to better use somewhere else on campus. To me, this is just insane and I don't care if this is the biggest school or the smallest school - that salary is ridiculous (I think $300,000 is ridiculous too)! Just a slap in the face to all the people struggling to put themselve or their kids through college and another step towards making the affordable unaffordable!
SanteeMom July 15, 2011 at 10:39 PM
oops, "could go to" not "good go to"
Crystal Sudano September 20, 2011 at 10:56 AM
Excuse me but very quick point. The Educational Master Plan that was adopted by the voters of California says that the wanted Public Education to be FREE. There IS a provision within the Master Plan that says IF there isnt adequate funding (state revenue) generated in order to accomodate the Plan that "fees" could then be charged to the students (not "tuition") because the Master Plan which is the "Law" prohibits "tuition" being charged to students accessing the public school system. Soooo if there isnt enough funding from revenue to follow the law, making public education free for students, then there isnt enough funding from revenue to pay top dollor to a university president either. Oh and the standard answer.... "... in other states they pay xyz..." Look around.... we are NOT in another state... we are here in California. Ca. is broken and I can assure you tying to keep up with the Jones in another state is not going to solve the problem for our state. Basic checking account logic? You dont go around spending money you dont have.
Crystal Sudano September 20, 2011 at 11:16 AM
One more thing...its not 400k...its 350k 50k is being "donated" by the SDSU Foundation. Which is wierd. One of the men who sat on the hiring committe for the president ALSO is also a board member of the SDSU Foundation. SDSU President ALSO recieves 60k as his housing allowance, also recieves 1,000 a month for auto expenses. (12,000) He is entitled to full health, dental, and visual benifits for the rest of his life. He gets an unbelievable retirement package. The new SDSU President negotiated that he would be able to seek an honorary docterate degree from one of the colleges at SDSU. Why is this a big deal? Because when you retire the higher your educational Degree the more you get paid. I assure you 350k is just a small drop in the bucket....
Komfort September 20, 2011 at 04:51 PM
Think of all the firefighters we could have for that kind of money! It would be 5.7 at the average pay of $70,000. Bless our heroes! Wait, come again? They trade days off and average $120,000 using an overtime scheme? Be nice. They deserve the Fire Castle, and we owe them. I remember it every time I see the “boot” out. http://lgcr.sco.ca.gov/CompensationDetail.aspx?entity=City&id=11983742100&year=2009&GetCsu=False
A. Kemalyan December 04, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Let me just say this: the President of the United States is compensated with $400k annually with an additional $50k expense allowance. I'm not sure that anyone could make a case where it is justifiable to pay the president of a single CSU a salary so comparable to that of the US President's. As a current SDSU student myself, I can personally attest to Hirshman's "qualifications" as they relate to "run a tight ship and keep costs and spending down" everyday when I watch the construction of the $104,000,000 Student Union building that is funded by none other than the all-elastic Student Fees. Cheers.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something