State Sen. Leland Yee introduced a bill in the state legislature that would attempt to curb administrative salary increases at California universities within two years of tuition hikes or state budget cuts.

If signed into law, SB 967 would mandate that new executives at California State Universities earn no higher than 5 percent more than their predecessors and would ban general pay hikes within two years of a tuition increase. Although the bill would be legally binding for the CSU system, the state cannot extend the same purview over the University of California — which has remained autonomous since 1879 — and would only be able to recommend they follow suit.

In a statement released Jan. 13, Lee said those governing the state’s universities have become accustomed to taking actions in disregard of public interest.

“The exorbitant executive pay practices of the CSU Trustees and UC Regents are appalling and reinforces the perception that they are completely out of touch,” Yee said. “UC and CSU are public institutions designed to serve California’s students and not to be a cash cow for executives.”

UC Office of the President Spokesperson Dianne Klein said the potential impact of SB 967 on the UC would be extremely limited considering the system’s autonomy.

“[Legislators] can make suggestions hoping we will comply, but in this case the bill really only affects the CSUs,” Klein said.

Last year, the CSU Board of Trustees hired Elliot Hirshman to head its San Diego campus at a salary of $400,000 — a $100,000 increase for the position — the same day it raised student tuition by 12 percent.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo President Jeffrey Armstrong was hired in 2010 with a pay rate 13 percent above his predecessor’s and 16 percent more than the published salary maximum, prompting a lawsuit from the school’s faculty that was later dismissed by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant.

In 2009, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi was hired for an annual salary of $400,000, 27 percent above her predecessor’s income, while student fees and tuition have steadily risen since 2007.

Top UCOP officials maintain that such decisions are necessary to keep salaries competitive with those at other institutions.

Computer science graduate student Saeed Mahani, an undergraduate alumnus, said it is unjust that student fees rise staggeringly while the system allocates more finances toward its top administrators.

“In the ’05-’06 school year, which was my first year here, undergraduate tuition was $6,993 and graduate tuition was $7,491. For this academic year, undergraduate tuition is $12,686 and graduate tuition is around $15,300,” Mahani said. “It’s just amazing to see tuition go up that much in my time here. I know fees have been getting really high for CSU students as well, and it’s frustrating to hear that university executives are getting pay increases.”

Mahani said the regents’ active policy contradicts the claims they continue to wager in defense of tuition hikes.

“They say that fees are going up because the money just isn’t there, that they aren’t getting enough money anymore, so tuition has to make up for the losses,” Mahani said. “How can CSU and UC officials raise tuition and say that? Especially in years where they are hiring executives at 34 percent and 27 percent pay raises?”

Third-year chemistry major Nick Johnson said the bill sets a laudable precedent even if it fails to directly affect UC schools.

“Is it really necessary to pay the officials that much?” Johnson said. “I hope UC officials really take into consideration the recommendations made in the bill.”