EDITORIAL: Shoot straight with students, Nelsen


Dayla Cook - The State Hornet

Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen and Associated Students, Inc. President Mia Kagianas answer questions during the tuition forum Feb. 8.

Last week, The State Hornet called into question why the highest-paid leaders in the California State University system are paid so much, and said it was an insult to students for those administrators to accept raises as tuition is set to increase for the second year in a row.

Apparently, students at Sacramento State got the message. At last week’s ASI forum on the tuition increase, Sac State President Robert Nelsen was repeatedly questioned about his salary, and was asked to justify it.

His responses —  all of which failed to provide actual justification for why he and his colleagues did not reject their raises this year or last — displayed a deeply disappointing tone-deafness.

When one student questioned the appropriateness of the raises, Nelsen responded by saying “I understand appearance. I also understand you pay for what you get.”

Nelsen also chose to focus on the idea that the 2.5 percent raise he and other executives will receive is a good thing overall because all CSU employees — including faculty — will also be receiving the same raise.

Nelsen went on to mention that university presidents in other states are paid more on average, and that the ultimate goal for everyone in the CSU system is to be “fully compensated.”

Do faculty and staff deserve raises? Absolutely. After all, they’re the ones “on the ground,” so to speak. But as faculty are historically underpaid and have little bearing on the executive-level decisions affecting students, their hard-won compensation increases are not relevant.

At its core, this is a leadership issue. It is offensive to many students for the leadership of the CSU — those who are currently failing in their mission to “provide access to an excellent education to all who are prepared for and wish to participate in collegiate study” — to take more money from already financially burdened students while continuing to receive raises each year, particularly as Sac State plays host to a conference outlining the fact that 1 in 10 CSU students are homeless and 41.6 percent are food insecure.

Nelsen has quite a habit of being tone deaf in the face of upset students, including last year, when — in an affront to the countless students who commute hours each day to attend Sac State — he denied the notion that Sac State is a commuter campus. Nelsen even went so far as to turn it into a dirty word, being quoted as saying “I hate the ‘C’ word.”

There are many problems within both the CSU system and Sac State at the moment. Nelsen has purposefully crafted his image over the last three years, appearing to be an ally to students on issues both academic and personal — and these efforts are very much appreciated.

His response to this year’s DACA uncertainty provided much-needed reassurance during troubling times, and his willingness to attend student protests and listen to their concerns has brought an uncommon sense of accessibility to his office.

But students are struggling in historic proportions — and we cannot allow our leadership to simply shrug and blame Gov. Brown’s budget for a funding shortfall and meekly accept a tuition hike without taking a long hard look at what being there for students truly means.

We appreciate our president. But it’s time to do better.