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Cal State trustees are cleared of violating law

An L.A. judge rules that a closed session on rehiring ex-Chancellor Barry Munitz as a professor did not violate the open meetings act.

January 12, 2007|Francisco Vara-Orta | Times Staff Writer

California State University trustees didn't violate state law when they met behind closed doors to discuss the return of former Chancellor Barry Munitz to the university system, a judge ruled Thursday.

Munitz was offered a salary of $163,776 during his first year as a trustee professor, and then would be eligible to earn up to $112,548, the highest possible salary for a full-time professor.

The package drew criticism from Cal State students and faculty, noting Munitz's resignation last February from the J. Paul Getty Trust amid questions about his spending and compensation.

At issue Thursday was the lawsuit that the California Faculty Assn. filed in May, objecting to the March 14 private meeting that Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed called to inform trustees of the details of Munitz's return from what Reed called an eight-year "leave of absence."

The suit did not ask for changes in Munitz's compensation package. The group wanted the judge to order the Board of Trustees to admit that it violated the open meetings act, make it agree to tape-record closed-door meetings for a year and require Reed to submit to a deposition in which he would have to disclose what happened at the March meeting.

In the lawsuit, the association argued that Cal State trustees violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, which states that "all meetings of a state body shall be open and public."

"The decision to schedule for closed session was based upon the likely public relations fallout from the inevitable public disclosure of Munitz's return rather than concern about the sensitivity of issues such as hiring, evaluation, discipline or complaints," said Glenn Rothner, the faculty association's lead attorney.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs ruled that the meeting didn't violate the Bagley-Keene Act because the law allows for personnel issues, such as employment, to be discussed in private.

A handful of association members who were in the courtroom said they were disappointed by the decision but not defeated. Rothner said the association would appeal.

A university spokeswoman, Clara Potes-Fellow, said in an interview that CSU's administration has been "very transparent" in the dissemination of information about Munitz's contract. She cited a news release the university sent out April 28 outlining his compensation package.

The next day, Munitz assumed a tenured faculty position in Cal State L.A.'s English department. Along with teaching one class and administrative duties, Munitz is expected to help raise funds for a leadership institute now under construction.

Potes-Fellow said Munitz, chancellor of the 23-campus system from 1991 to 1998, was exercising his right to return under a now-defunct program available to top administrators hired from 1981 to 1992 that is still honored for those who qualify.

The litigation occurs during contract negotiations between faculty and the university -- talks that CSU officials characterize as "underway" but teachers call "stalled."

Terming Cal State's current offer "very generous," Potes-Fellow said the university proposes a 4% pay raise for this year that would bring average salaries to $89,551 for full professors, $77,108 for tenure-track professors and $44,920 for lecturers. It would be the first of four raises that would increase salaries 23.7% by 2010.

The 22,000-member association says Cal State's numbers are misleading, because they lump together cost-of-living raises with discretionary raises, such as those based on merit, that many would not receive.

francisco.varaorta @latimes.com

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