With no fanfare and no advance public word, the State University of New York board of trustees Tuesday approved a near-50 percent pay hike for the system's chancellor.
John W. Ryan, who has run the SUNY system for less than two years, will see his salary rise to $250,000 from $172,000. The raise came the same day the board approved a 3.5 percent pay hike for university professors.
Student and faculty groups sharply criticized the timing and size of the pay increase -- a percentage leap that is staggering even by private corporation standards.
Curiously, the pay raise was not listed on the agenda for the board's consideration at its meeting Tuesday. SUNY officials said the chancellor's salary was raised following a survey of other public and private universities that showed the salary for the SUNY chancellor was on the lower end.
Besides raising Ryan's salary to $250,000, the board also approved a salary range for the post of between $220,000 and $290,000. That means Ryan could, under the new scale, could get another $40,000 pay hike and still be within the new salary range.
"There is no other person who is better suited, more respected and revered and capable of taking the state university into the front ranks of American public higher education than John Ryan. Investing in John Ryan is an investment in the future of the State University of New York," said SUNY Board Chairman Thomas Egan.
But one of three board members who abstained in the vote criticized the lack of any process for approving the raise.
"The way it was done today was just wrong," said Arnold Gardner of Buffalo. He said the issue arose "suddenly and without any expectation that the item would be presented or considered at this meeting."
"There's a process we should go through and that should have preceded today's action," Gardner said.
Gardner praised Ryan's performance and agreed the present salary is too low compared to other universities. But he said some mechanism should be put in place to come up with a new proposed salary.
"I showed up and the proposal was dumped on the full board," said trustee Rod Chu, a former state tax commissioner in the Cuomo administration who joined Gardner in abstaining on the salary vote.
Chu said the board's own policy of having committees consider such proposals was violated and that when the vote came up there was not even anything in writing detailing the plan.
"It provides, unfortunately, the appearance of railroading such a major increase in salary," Chu said.
The vote was approved by all the members appointed to the board by Gov. Pataki, who made bloated state salaries an issue in the 1994 campaign.
"The SUNY trustees made this decision based on the fact that enrollment is up and that SUNY continues to be one of the premier higher education systems in the United States," said Pataki spokesman Chuck Deister.
Ryan came to SUNY in 1996 from Indiana University, where he was president. At 67, Ryan was believed to be merely an interim chancellor of the 64-campus system. But earlier this year, he went from caretaker to being made permanent chancellor after the board could not agree on his replacement and a number of qualified individuals did not apply.
The president of United University Professions, a 21,500-member union representing college professors, librarians and other SUNY workers, said the big raise for Ryan comes after his union members did not get a raise for two years.
"It's absurd," said William Scheuerman, union president. "And I guess what it tells us is that when we go into negotiations next time we'll get treated as well as the chancellor, although we won't be looking for a chauffeur-driven limousine. We're glad he got a raise, but they're not going to get away cheating us while giving him a 45 percent raise."
The vote for Ryan's raise came the same day as SUNY students formally asked the board to roll back tuition by the $750 hike imposed in 1995 by Pataki and the Legislature. No action was taken on that request.
"We feel it's another step toward the privatization of SUNY. Just like major corporations giving huge pay hikes to chief executives while downsizing the rest of the company, that's what is happening at SUNY," said Dan O'Sullivan, field director for the Student Association of the State University of New York, a students' lobbying group.
O'Sullivan noted Pataki tried again this year to raise tuition and cut funding for financial aid.
"The amount of the raise (for Ryan) is outrageous," O'Sullivan said, "and it comes on the heels of Gov. Pataki's last three budgets."
While raising Ryan's salary, the board also voted to raise tuition at five of the state's 30 community colleges, including Erie and Jamestown community colleges. Their tuition was set at $2,600 this year, $100 above a SUNY cap.