OLYMPIA — Citing outrage over ongoing cuts to higher education funding, a Central Washington University professor-turned-lawmaker wants to restrict how much state university presidents can receive in bonuses.
Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, has introduced legislation that stems from an October 2011 decision by the CWU board of trustees to provide a retention bonus of up to $500,000 to university President James Gaudino if he remains until 2016.
The move, which came in the wake of layoffs and tuition increases, prompted an outcry by university students, faculty and staff. If signed into law, the bill would not retroactively nullify such bonuses.
“We can’t unring the bell, but we can make sure we don’t make the same mistake again,” Manweller said.
House Bill 1176 would limit the bonus and incentive pay for the state’s university presidents to no more than 20 percent of their base salary over the course of four years. That would mean Gaudino, who makes $290,000 a year, could only receive up to $58,000 in bonuses in a four-year period.
“I’m not trying to say you can’t have bonuses,” Manweller said. “You just can’t have giant bonuses.”
Central Washington University spokeswoman Linda Schactler said the university has no official statement on the legislation at this time.
“If it does move forward, I fully anticipate all of the state universities will have something to say about it,” Schactler said.
The bill is yet to be scheduled for a hearing, but it has some bipartisan support. Its other two sponsors are Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, and Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland.
Former Republican congressman Sid Morrison, who is now chairman of the university’s board of trustees, supports the large incentive pay for Gaudino and said the legislation would worsen problems for universities.
“There’s a competitive market for good leaders,” Morrison said. “You’ve got to pay just enough to hang on to them.”
If the bill were approved, Morrison said universities in other states without such restrictions could use it to pull away administrators or win over candidates for those jobs. He said other institutions have already shown interest in Gaudino, who was hired in 2009.
Bob Hickey, president of United Faculty at Central, the university’s faculty union, declined comment on Manweller’s legislation. The union publicly expressed disappointment with Gaudino’s bonus when it was announced in 2011.
“We were disappointed that at a time when everything was being cut our trustees chose to make this offer,” Hickey said in a telephone interview.
Attempts to reach representatives of the university’s student government were unsuccessful.
Manweller said it was irresponsible of trustees to make the $500,000 incentive offer when Gaudino had only been on the job for two years. Manweller noted the announcement came on the heels of news that tuition would increase 14 percent in 2011 and 2012.
“But you can’t legislate sensitivity,” Manweller said.
Morrison said in light of having less to work with from the state following the recession, being able to offer incentives is one of the remaining tools for stewarding universities through rough times.
“To take that authority away just guarantees a tailspin for public universities and the persons involved,” Morrison said.
Manweller is a professor of political science at CWU. In October, he threatened to sue the university over its investigation into what he said were false claims of sexual harassment made against him several years ago by a former student.
The investigation was conducted and released only weeks before the November elections, and he alleged the process was politically motivated. The investigation said while evidence suggested Manweller violated the university’s sexual harassment policy, the allegations could not be proven.