When Connecticut State University Chancellor David Carter came under fire from legislators last month, the head of CSU’s Board of Trustees issued a memo defending him, saying, among other things, that Carter had trimmed central office staff by nearly a third since his appointment in 2006.

And in fact Carter cut the staff by more than 28 percent as of this fiscal year, according to the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis. But personal services costs for the central office still increased by 14 percent in the same period, fueled in part by double-digit raises for Carter and top members of his staff.

The raises far outpaced the rate of inflation and the growth in pay for faculty and other employees. The largest raises went to Carter, whose annual base salary rose from $247,505 in 2006-2007 to $362,733 two years later, a 46.6 percent increase.

Carter’s base pay, like that of other university employees, was frozen during the fiscal year that ends this month, but he also received state employee longevity pay and an annual stipend for hosting university functions, bringing his overall annual pay to about $412,000.

“These salaries are discouraging in light of the economics of the state budget,” said State Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, co-chairman of the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee. “Some of this stuff, at the rate they’re going, is just not sustainable.”

The salaries are part of a larger issue surrounding CSU’s governance structure, one of several topics likely to be examined by the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee this year. Lawmakers plan to review the cost of running the system headquarters in Hartford while also operating four separate universities – each with its own president and administration.

As Connecticut and other states strain under the burden of steep budget deficits, the level of pay for public employees, including executives at public universities, has drawn renewed attention.

“The issue is extremely hot. It’s never been more intensely scrutinized,” said Paul Fain, a senior reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education, which publishes an annual survey of salaries for college presidents.

“It’s really getting to the point a lot of them are having to face tough questions everywhere,” he said.

At CSU, the issue surfaced last fall when the Board of Trustees authorized an $82,500 retention bonus as a reward to Carter for turning down an early retirement offer from the state. Carter said he would not accept the bonus, and earlier this month the board formally withdrew the offer, citing the state’s shaky financial status.

The proposal, however, stirred controversy, as did Carter’s decision a few weeks later to dismiss Southern Connecticut State University President Cheryl Norton – a decision that leaves CSU paying full salaries of more than $280,000 each to Norton and her interim successor for the next year.

Some state lawmakers criticized the arrangement, particularly in light of the state’s steep budget deficit, projected to reach nearly $3.4 billion by 2012.

In a memo to legislators defending Carter, CSU trustees said Carter has run the university system efficiently, citing, for example, the staffing cuts at the system’s Hartford headquarters since his appointment in 2006 as chancellor. In addition to the OFA count of 28 positions eliminated as of the current fiscal year, CSU officials say there are four more effective with the budget year that begins next month. The cuts, by layoff, early retirement or attrition, ranged from information technology workers to senior officials, including Carter’s chief of staff.

Nevertheless, audits done for CSU by PricewaterhouseCoopers say personnel costs, including fringe benefits, increased by 22.7 percent at the central office versus 19.6 percent at the four CSU campuses between the start of Carter’s tenure and the fiscal year ending last June 30, the most recent year audited.

As some employees left, others received substantial raises and, in several cases, new titles and job descriptions. David Trainor, Carter’s executive assistant, was the biggest beneficiary of the pay-and-title upgrades.

In July of 2006, Trainor was CSU’s executive officer for human resources and labor relations, with a base pay of $141,551. Two years later, he was associate vice chancellor for human resources and labor relations, base pay of $182,215. In July 2009, the start of the fiscal year that ends this month, the role of executive assistant was added to his title, and his base pay jumped to $192,408, for a total increase over three years of 36 percent.

Like the rest of the CSU system, most of Carter’s other top aides had their pay frozen for the current fiscal year, but most saw hefty increases before that. Jill Ferraiolo, formerly executive officer for government relations, received base pay of $153,207 in 2008, an increase of 25 percent over two years as her title also changed to associate vice chancellor.

Pamela Kedderis, chief financial officer at the start of the 2006-2007 fiscal year, was made vice chancellor for finance and administration, with a base pay of $186,593 for 2008-2009, an increase of 17.3 percent.

Ferraiolo, Kedderis, and most of Carter’s other top aides also receive longevity payments based on their years of service, which raised their total compensation by thousands of dollars.

The only top administrator who didn’t receive at least one raise before the freeze was Louise Feroe, the system’s chief academic officer, who started the 2009 fiscal year with a base pay of $220,764.

Meanwhile, the average salary for professors rose by about 5.5 percent annually between 2006 and 2008, reaching $80,409, according to the CSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, a cumulative increase of 11.2 percent over two years.

CSU Board of Trustees Chairman Karl Krapek turned down requests to be interviewed for this story but issued a statement defending the system office raises, saying that they were lower than what had been recommended in an independent consultant’s compensation study in 2006.

CSU memo 6-28-10

The raises occurred “over a number of years to assure the competitive position of the Connecticut State University System within our state, regionally, and nationally,” he wrote.

Lawrence McHugh, who was CSU’s Board of Trustees chairman until last year, said the salaries of executives, including campus presidents, were adjusted after comparisons to the salary range of other colleges in the region found CSU “at the lower end of it.”

The presidents at CSU’s Central, Southern, Eastern and Western campuses each got a 5 percent raise in 2007 and an 18 percent raise in 2008, bringing their base salary to $285,200, where it remains today. The presidents also get a $25,000 annual stipend to be used for university-related activities.

By comparison, the 2007-08 presidential salary at the University of Harford was $401,121, at Sacred Heart University $492,392, at Quinnipiac University $572,000, at the University of Bridgeport $289,380, at Trinity College $370,450, at the University of New Haven $291,683, and at Fairfield University $282,000, according to the latest survey of private colleges in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Comparing pay in academia is notoriously subjective. Some CSU administrators have compared their salaries to generally higher executive pay at the University of Connecticut, where outgoing president Michael Hogan, for example, was being paid a base salary of $577,500 for the current fiscal year.

But organizations that evaluate college pay put the two schools in different categories, where median salaries differ significantly. UConn is considered a national, doctoral-granting research university, while CSU is ranked with regional master’s-degrees granting institutions.  Some studies break the categories down even more, distinguishing between public and private institutions.

Comparisons among college salaries have led to “the equivalent of a compensation arms race,” one former college president wrote recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Across the higher-education spectrum . . . the relentless pressure to be atop, or near the top, of the peer group results in an escalation in salary and benefits exceeding the most-liberal inflationary indexes,” wrote Constantine Curris, former president at Murray State, Northern Iowa and Clemson universities.

Curris now works as a consultant for Academic Search Inc., specializing in searches for college provosts and presidents. One possibility, he said, would be to set presidential salaries based on a ratio to the salaries of full professors.

“What we’ve seen in the last five to seven years at several institutions is that there is absolutely no relationship between the salaries of the chief executives and the salaries of the people who work inside the institutions,” Curris said.

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