U of O, OSU dodge salary freeze

PORTLAND, Ore. – Employees at the University of Oregon andOregon State University got pay raises despite a mandated salaryfreeze for all state employees during the 2003-2005 fiscalbiennium, according to a new audit by Secretary of State BillBradbury’s office.

The audit found that 126 raises at the Eugene and Corvallisuniversities could be considered “questionable,” at a cost of$810,000 – $660,000 at the University of Oregon and $150,000 atOregon State.

Oregon University System officials, though, said the raises hadbeen agreed upon, and in some cases had begun, before the salaryfreeze went into effect on July 1, 2003.

“It is our belief that the budget became effective on July 1,2003,” said Acting Chancellor George Pernsteiner. “All these otherincreases had been agreed to and begun to be paid prior to July1.”

The audit, however, contends that the university system shouldhave abided by the legislature’s stated intent to impose a salaryfreeze during the biennium, part of an effort to curb costs in theface of a yawning budget gap.

“While the Oregon University System had hoped to be exempt fromthe pay freeze, it was clear during the May 27, 2003 budget hearingthat the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Education subcommitteeintended to include the university system in the freeze,” the auditstates. “It appears there were no additional hearing thatconsidered exempting the university system from the pay freezeafter the May hearings.”

Pernsteiner said some of the raises in question went toclassified staff members as a result of agreed-upon unionnegotiations. Others were merit raises, some of them designed tobring faculty up to scale with their counterparts at comparableuniversities; some to keep prized faculty from fleeing for other,potentially more lucrative job offers.

“[The freeze] has really been a struggle … both in terms ofkeeping faculty, as well as in terms of trying to attract some keyfaculty from outside,” Oregon State provost Sabah Randhawasaid.

According to the audit, other raises were given to employees whogot promotions, or whose jobs were changed to include significantlymore responsibilities.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who has made improving higher education oneof his signature issues, said in a statement Wednesday that theaudit “raises serious concerns about whether the university systemcomplied with my instructions to institute a salary freeze forstate employees in 2003-05. While I understand the universitysystem may have contractual issues that led to these salarydecisions, I intend to examine this matter further to ensure thatthe university system is complying with both the letter and thespirit of my instructions.”

The audit began after a February 2004 call to the state auditsdivision alleging that Oregon universities were “reclassifying”employees as a means of increasing their pay during the salaryfreeze.

After investigation, those allegations were found to be false,but state auditors did start looking into the raises that had beengiven to university employees during the biennium.

Pernsteiner said that except for promotions, or for added jobduties, there have been no additional salary raises agreed foruniversity employees during the 2003-2005 biennium.