Last year marked one of the toughest budget years in history for the University of California, prompting furloughs for many employees and steep fee increases for students. Nevertheless, the state's premier university system spent more on its payroll in 2009 than it did in 2008, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of UC salary data.
The increase was relatively small but points to a larger trend: As state funding declines, UC is relying more heavily on private sources of funding such as research grants and hospital fees. Those income sources fuel the university system's medical and research enterprises, and aren't used to pay for basic undergraduate education, which relies on student fees and the state's general fund.
Overall compensation for UC's 250,000 employees rose 2.5 percent in 2009. By comparison, compensation in 2008 was 7.4 percent higher than 2007. The number of UC employees earning more than $100,000 in 2009 increased by 5 percent – to about 22,600 workers – and the number earning more than $1 million went from eight to 10, the data analysis shows.
All of UC's million-dollar earners are athletic coaches or medical specialists, such as brain surgeons. Their salaries are paid largely by users – ticket buyers and TV networks in the case of coaches, and hospital patients and health insurers in the case of doctors – not by the taxpayers who support the state's general fund.
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It's the money UC gets from the general fund that took a big hit last year. Facing a massive budget deficit for the 2009-10 fiscal year, California lawmakers cut UC's general fund allocation by about 20 percent last summer.
The university turned to grants and hospital fees to fund some pay increases, the salary data show. In 2009, UC spent $2.25 billion of its hospital revenue on salaries, up from $2.09 billion the year before. The amount of grant money spent on salaries grew by $87 million to $1.59 billion, driven largely by federal stimulus money for scientific research.
The increases reflect more work being done in UC's hospitals and research labs, said UC spokesman Steve Montiel. In 2009, UC hospitals provided more medical care than the prior year, he said, and so took in more revenue.
"We don't increase hospital and research revenues to pay for salary increases," Montiel wrote in an e-mail to The Bee. "Those fund sources rise with an increased workload, and are only used to fund salaries for those employees supported from those fund sources."
Market pressure also has contributed to rising salaries for doctors, particularly for those with medical specialties, Montiel said.
UC's highest paid doctor is Timothy McCalmont, a specialist in diseases of the skin, who earned $1.9 million last year for his work at UC San Francisco. The highest-paid UC Davis doctor is Jan Paul Muizelaar, a brain surgeon who earned more than $747,000 last year.
"This is what doctors make," Montiel said. "It's not unique to the UC health system."
UC implemented a furlough program last year but because it started in September, only four months of the associated pay cuts are reflected in the 2009 salary data.
The furloughs were not applied consistently across the university, with about 25 percent of UC's 250,000 employees participating. UC imposed furloughs on many categories of nonunion employees, but most hospital employees were exempt, as were lab and campus employees whose salaries are paid by external research grants. In addition, not all labor unions agreed to take the furloughs, and workers in some unions got raises called for in their contracts.
While compensation was up overall in 2009, the impact on salaries was uneven. Not counting student workers, 60 percent of UC workers earned more than they did the prior year, while 40 percent earned less.
Some people saw their salaries rise or fall because of promotions, raises or furloughs. Others earned more or less because of overtime pay, extra pay for teaching in the summer or fluctuating grants.
Lynn Perani, a researcher in the dairy lab at UC Davis, saw her salary drop to $30,000 last year – from $41,000 the year before – because grant funding for her program fell. With less funding, Perani said she was offered only part-time work for much of 2009.
She and her husband cut back on meals out, choosing Denny's instead of white linen. And Perani, 55, postponed her retirement. "We haven't starved. We haven't been homeless. But it has impacted my life," she said.
Perani said it's frustrating to see other UC employees making more while her salary gets cut.
"If one person gets a raise, then everybody should be getting raises," she said. "Or if we have to cut back, then everybody should cut back. It's just unfair."