Regents Approve University Presidents’ Contract Extensions, Executive Director Raise


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As Arizona students struggle under the weight of ever increasing tuition payments and mounting debt, the Arizona Board of Regents Executive Director John Arnold was awarded a 3.5 percent raise. The Regents voted to give Arnold the salary bump and contract extension during their November 22, meeting.

The Board’s materials show that the approval of Arnold’s raise increased his $275,000 annual salary to $284,625. The Board was kind enough to make it retroactive to October 1, 2019.

The Board also approved one-year extensions of the lucrative contracts for the presidents of Arizona’s public universities.

In May 2018, the Board approved the following salaries:

● Arizona State University (ASU) President Michael Crow – $690,000 base salary.

● Northern Arizona University (NAU) President Rita Cheng – $475,000 base salary.

● University of Arizona (UA) President Robert Robbins – $675,000 base salary

“With approval of the item, Arizona State University President Michael Crow’s contract is extended through June 30, 2024; and Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng and The University of Arizona President Robert Robbins’ contracts are extended through June 30, 2022. The Regents Executive Committee and the board review each president’s contract at least annually, and consider at-risk compensation, contract terms, contract extensions and performance,” according to the ABOR press release.

In his lawsuit against the Regents, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich challenged the universities practice of enriching corporations while raising students’ tuition.  As the ADI previously reported:

Since 2017, the Attorney General’s Office has sought court review of Arizona Board Of Regents (ABOR) policies and practices for unlawful tuition and fee-setting actions, as well as public money subsidies paid to ineligible students under state law.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, Arizona’s Constitution requires instruction at the state’s public colleges to be provided “as nearly free as possible.” Despite this, the Arizona Board of Regents has increased tuition and mandatory fees at state universities by over 300% since 2003.

The petition also seeks clarity on a 1960’s case ruling Arizona State Land Department v. McFate. The Arizona Court of Appeals unanimously concluded McFate’s limitation on the Attorney General’s authority to initiate lawsuits “appears to be flawed.”

Last week, Tax Court Judge Christopher Whitten ruled against Brnovich based on the timing of his suit. Brnovich is expected to appeal.

Brnovich’s lawsuit, according to the Arizona Capitol Times, is based on the contention that the deal with a private developer violates the Gift Clause of the Arizona Constitution. “That claim is based on the idea that the Arizona Board of Regents is effectively providing a subsidy to the private developer by paying for a conference center that the university would be able to use just seven days a year,” reports the Arizona Capitol Times. “There’s also a separate legal question of having what amounts to a tax exemption for the hotel because it is being built on tax-exempt university property.

Larry Penley, president of the Board of Regents, addressed the ruling in a press release:

“The board appreciates that today the Superior Court of Arizona granted the board’s motion for summary judgement in the Attorney General’s lawsuit against the board for property development transactions and denied the Attorney General’s motion for summary judgment. With this decision and previous decisions in this case, the court has made clear that the Attorney General lacked statutory authority to bring this lawsuit; that he cannot force taxing authorities to assess and collect property taxes on tax-exempt property, (the Arizona Constitution provides that land owned by Arizona public universities is exempt from taxation); and that his gift clause claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

“We remain focused on our priority to provide affordable access to quality education at Arizona’s public universities. Leveraging our real estate provides an entrepreneurial opportunity to increase revenues to benefit students, the community and the state of Arizona.”

Penley did not specify as to how exactly enriching a crony and taking property of the very tax rolls that fund education helps students.