Future Southwestern College vice presidents received a $25,000 raise this week when the SWC Governing Board voted 3-2 to enact a proposal by new superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish. VPs on the top end of the salary schedule will get a boost from about $150,000 to $175,000.A long line of speakers expressed opposition to the plan, approved on a 3-2 vote that featured a rare fracture in the reformist alliance of Norma Hernandez, Tim Nader and Humberto Peraza. Hernandez broke ranks and voted with conservatives Terry Valladolid and Dr. Jean Roesch.
After being told by recruiting specialists that VP salaries at SWC were $20,000 too low, Interim Vice President for Human Resources Dr. Joseph Quarles proposed a change in the range from $10,170.00 – $12,506.00 to $11,900.00 – $14,638.00. Nish and Quarles argued that SWC needs to boost salaries in order to attract talented candidates.
Nish sent out a global e-mail a day prior to the board meeting spelling out her case.
A number of SWC employees and community members encouraged the board to oppose or delay the increase during the current California budget crisis that has seen SWC lose $8 million of its budget this year alone. A $5 million cut looms for 2012-13.
Janet Mazzarella, professor of mathematics, said increasing VP salaries when no faculty have had raises since 2008 would send a negative message to the college and community.
“I really feel so strongly that this is not the time to be implementing this particular move,” she said. “When Dr. Chopra took his 7.9 percent raise and he said, ‘This measly $15,000 is not that much,’ we were all outraged because we had not seen anything that was an adjustment to our salaries. And we still have not seen, nor have we asked for, one penny of compensation. To improve the VP salaries at this time, I think it sends the wrong message to the community and to the faculty staff and the many employees at this college.”
Timing was an issue of concern to many speakers.
“This is not only a bad time to increase the vice president’s pay, it is the worst time possible,” said Professor of English Phil Lopez.
Quarles said the salary schedule addresses a critical need at Southwestern – stability.
“This is an investment in the future,” he said. “This is moving ahead. You have recently approved an appointed of a superintendent/president. It is only fair that she has the kind of stability in her cabinet to move forward.”
Since 2000, SWC has rotated through 29 vice presidents and in the last four years, the college has had 16.
Articulation Officer Veronica Burton said she felt money would create a false incentive to come to the campus.
“I do not buy that we cannot get good candidates for this position,” said Burton. “I think it’s an insult to individuals doing the work as interims to say this. If people want to work here, I truly believe they’ll come here.”
Burton said the hiring firm responsible for finding candidates had been suspended and that she felt hiring from inside had been overlooked as a viable option. Professor of Reading Robert Unger is currently serving as interim director of human resources and Dean of Math, Science and Engineering Kathy Tyner is interim vice president of academic affairs. Burton said the pool for vice president of human resources had 18 qualified candidates, including Unger.
“I also know that one of the hiring processes was suspended, without an explanation and without the committee having the opportunity to have the input on whether a substantial pool of candidates who met minimal qualifications were viable candidates,” she said. “There are also very talented and capable people on this campus who are not being utilized to their full potential.”
Interim Vice President of Business and Financial Affairs C.M. Brahmbatt said that even if the school hired from within, it would only be fair to give those new vice presidents just compensation.
“You may be able to have an in-house candidate who can show that they will be able to do the job,” he said. “They equally deserve market compensation. So it’s a double-edged sword.”
Brahmbatt has said he considers himself retired and has no interest in applying for the permanent VP job. Brahmbatt, like Nish, said he believes in order for the school to have stability in leadership an investment must be made.
“Everything will return back to normalcy,” he said. “You just need to give us a little bit more time.”
Candice Taffolla-Schreiber, a communications professor, said the problem is not that salaries are too low, but that SWC’s reputation in the national higher education community is too low following a decade of turmoil.
“Despite having taken a pay cut every year since having children because my health and welfare benefits package is awful and despite believing that this campus is excessively top heavy with very well-paid administrators, I’ve been trying to come to terms with the concept that I need to take another pay cut,” she said. “I do not believe for even a moment that we have a VP salary issue here. We have a reputation issue here. You want a better pool of candidates? You want stability in the leadership ranks? Fix the culture, fix the climate, mend our reputation.”
Taffolla-Schreiber said increasing VP salaries will only cloud the pool of qualified candidates with people motivated not by progress but by money. Passing the new salary schedule measure will damage the progress made in rebuilding the trust on campus, she said.
“I think great strides have been made in that direction primarily on the backs of over-worked and under-paid faculty and classified professionals who work here because we love to and not because of the size of our paycheck,” she said. “I know what will not fix the culture. What will not mend our reputation is asking any of us to take a pay cut while simultaneously seeking support for a cleverly-worded salary schedule modification for vice presidents in an economy like this.”
“With the current economic climate, I really hate to see battle lines drawn,” said Burton. “It has already starting in certain pockets of the campus and I’m hoping we can calm this before things get out of hand. Approving salary increases for VPs would not calm the battle lines, it would only extend them.”
Professor of Speech Communication Eric Maag said he the ramifications of such an action would cause more problems than they would solve on campus.
“I believe that the vice president salary issue is the wrong time,” he said. “It sends the wrong signal to people we are trying to get invested and who have been invested and we could eventually turn those people away. There are reactions to these kinds of decisions. The other thing that I find potentially troubling to this kind of decision is, will it work?”
The step-and-column schedule has been frozen so any salary increase that VPs will get will be delayed, Maag said, and that will deter potential candidates.
“I just hope you send the right message to the college and do what is in our best interests,” he said.
ASO President Claudia Duran opposed the increase.
“We cannot continue to allow Southwestern to become a place where people get trained and then they leave,” she said. “We want to attract the best. However, we are looking at five figures here and in the grand scheme of things it may not seem like a lot of money. But quite frankly, if you were to ask students what they care about right now if we had the money for it … students would say summer school. Students would say classes. Students would say financial aid.”
Peraza said he liked and supported Nish, but could not approve a policy that directed so much money towards salaries when classes and services are being cut across the campus.
“I just cannot in good conscience vote for this,” he said. “When I make a decision I have to ask, can I explain this to people in my neighborhood, can I walk across the street and explain this to someone? When we are in the worst economy since the Great Depression, how do I explain to people across the street that I gave the people who make the most money on campus more money? And I can’t.”
Trustee Dr. Jean Roesch said she felt strongly that the salary schedule should be approved as an act in support of the new superintendent.
“We made a tremendous decision to hire a leader, a person who could really move this college forward, and I feel that the board should be supportive of our leader,” she said. “And this is what she is saying she needs to take this college as far as she can, and not just for today but for tomorrow and for the tomorrow to come. And I really feel that it is important that we give her this support and show her the type of leadership that we expect from her and that we want.”
Following the vote, Board President Hernandez and Peraza released a joint statement explaining the board’s decision and demonstrating unity on the board despite a disagreement over this issue.
“Compensation discussions are difficult, but this Board is not afraid to engage in thoughtful dialogue about such issues. Each of us honors the majority vote taken and we will act as a body to support this decision. We have confidence in our new Superintendent/President, Dr. Melinda Nish and will hold her accountable to implement this plan in the most fiscally efficient manner possible and accomplish the goals of stabilizing our top management.”