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UCSF Faculty Say 'No' to Juicier Pensions

CEO Mark Laret
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CEO Mark Laret
In a letter to UCSF CEO Mark Laret and others, faculty group calls executive threats demanding higher benefits "unseemly"

In December, a group of three dozen of the University of California's highest-paid executives threatened legal action if they were not granted much-sweetened pensions--a move that would cost cash-strapped UC tens of millions.

Yesterday, the faculty association of UCSF sent a sharply worded letter to UCSF Medical Center CEO Mark Laret and others rebuking them for what the faculty described as an "unseemly" move amid the UC's financial crisis. 

UC's pension fund is under-funded by about $22 billion, and UC last month announced changes to the pension system that tightened eligibility requirements and requires employees to make greater contributions toward their pensions. 

The faculty association letter also noted that undergraduate fees are slated to increase another 32 percent.

Laret and the other UC executives have made an "inappropriate request at an inappropriate time," Warren Gold, chairman of the UCSF Faculty Association, said in an interview Thursday. "At the time the state has a $29 billion deficit, the university has a $3 billion deficit, and the pension is underfunded by $21, $22 billion, the staff and faculty are being asked to make marked increases in their own contributions, for these signatories to come up with this request is inappropriate. It's a huge amount of money."

The UC executives demanding increased pensions maintain that their pensionable income, now capped at $245,000, should be based on their entire salary, which can approach seven figures. UC had earlier indicated it would be willing to remove the cap, but now may not do so in light of UC's financial condition.

Gold noted that the pensions for UCSF faculty and staff are already based on the portion of their salaries that are paid by the state. Income from professional fees at the medical center and bonuses and other income are excluded from the faculty's pensionable income. Gold, a pulmonologist, says that less than half his income is derived from the state.

Laret, whose media-relations office did not respond to request for comment, is paid a base salary of $739,700 and, with a bonus, makes $920,927, UC reported in January 2010.

Gold says that while the faculty association has no direct power in this matter, there is a history of the UC administration heeding faculty sentiments. In the 1990s, he recalled, UCSF faculty opposition to a proposed merger with Stanford University's medial center led to the deal's demise.

"My experience," said Gold, who has been a professor at the medical school since 1969, "is that administration pays attention to what the faculty and staff have to say.

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