Regents approve 2 percent raise for UM, MSU presidents, higher ed commissioner

UM President Seth Bodnar

The Montana Board of Regents approved a 2 percent raise Friday for the presidents of Montana’s two flagship universities and the Commissioner of Higher Education, raising their wages from $313,845 to $320,122.

A deferred compensation of about $53,000 for every five years of service was also approved for the commissioner, which will not be distributed until after Clayton Christian’s retirement. The deferred compensation package does not apply to University of Montana President Seth Bodnar or Montana State University President Waded Cruzado.

The vote passed 6-1, with Regent Martha Sheehy the lone opponent.

On Thursday, Sheehy expressed concern about approving the commissioner’s deferred compensation, suggesting the board create a set salary instead of using the deferred compensation approach.

She pointed out the issue of future commissioners and other deputy commissioners having expectations of deferred compensation.

“I think it creates expectations all the way down the line [on something] we haven’t really made a decision about,” she said.

The raise will also be applied to about 4,000 non-union employees, including all Montana University System presidents and the commissioner and his 10-person staff.

The board also approved four more labor agreements which cover about 91 percent of unionized employees within the university system. Those employees will see a 2 percent raise as well.

The increases will take effect in February 2019.

Taylor Blossom, the student body president at Montana State University, supported the pay raises during public comment.

“Potential tuition increases are always hard for students, but I never think we should be avoiding those at the expense of supporting our faculty and the administrators who do so much for this system,” he said.

Montana Board of Regents chair Fran Albrecht said she respects Sheehy’s remarks about the deferred compensation and hopes to discuss the matter more with the board.

“I am appreciative of having a robust discussion around all of the items and respect that her perspective is different from the majority,” Albrecht said. “I remain confident that we need to support our leadership knowing that we fall behind with not continuing to compensate, and we jeopardize our future in having to replace leaders who are excellent and the exorbitant costs that could be placed upon us in trying to replace them and compete at the regional and national levels.”

Albrecht said that the board should continue to look at best practices and the different tools that could be used to attract and retain leaders.