Waded Cruzado Portrait

MSU President Waded Cruzado poses for a photo in August 2019.

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The Montana Board of Regents said Thursday they’re ready to offer a $150,000 pay increase to Montana State University President Waded Cruzado to keep her from leaving for a job at another university that would pay even more.

Combined with the regular 2% raise awarded to all state employees starting in January, the increase would raise her pay next year 48.8% to $476,524.

That would make Cruzado the highest paid employee in the Montana University System, and probably the highest paid state employee in Montana, said Kevin McRae, deputy commissioner.

Clay Christian, commissioner of higher education and Cruzado’s boss, said the results Cruzado has achieved at MSU have taken dedication, vision and assembling a great team. Those results — including MSU growing enrollment in an era when many American colleges are losing students — have attracted outside attention and Cruzado has an offer in hand, Christian said.

“We can’t match the offer,” he said. “We can close the gap.”

Christian called it the fiscally responsible thing to do to offer Cruzado additional money because it would be expensive and take time and energy to conduct a national search for a replacement. And it would hurt the momentum she has generated on the Bozeman campus, he said.

Casey Lozar, regents chair, called it “an extraordinary measure for an extraordinary performance for an extraordinary leader.”

The regents won’t vote on the pay increase until Friday, but all voiced support for the offer.

“I’m not leaving,” Cruzado said Thursday. “My heart is at Montana State University. My family loves Montana. We have an extraordinary university here.”

Cruzado, 59, finishing her 10th year as president, is MSU’s first woman and first minority president. She had welcomed the Board of Regents to the Bozeman campus with a report on MSU’s extraordinary progress — on everything from raising graduation rates to students winning prestigious national scholarships to raising millions of dollars for new buildings.

She declined to name the university that made her an offer or disclose how much money she was giving up, saying she takes seriously both MSU and the other university and wants to be respectful. She said she has no problem sitting across the table from a donor and asking for money for students, faculty and staff, but doesn’t like to talk about it for herself.

“I feel very honored,” she said.

The regents won’t vote until Friday on the pay raise for Cruzado, as well as 2% raises for other top administrators and 1,700 classified employees, but nearly all said they support offering Cruzado the raise.

Student Regent John Miller said as a former MSU student, he was excited to see it, because the campus has met unprecedented standards under her leadership.

Regent Bob Nystuen, a banker, said he supports the retention pay, and knows that in the private sector there’s great demand for talented leaders.

Regent Martha Sheehy said she agrees this as the fiscally responsible thing to do. She noted the offer and commissioner’s response had come about quickly and she appreciated how it was handled, including keeping private the name of the other university trying to recruit Cruzado.

MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig would say only that it is a larger university.

Regents Joyce Dombrouski and Brianne Rogers also expressed support.

In addition to the pay raise, the regents are being asked to change Cruzado’s deferred compensation plan. It originally offered her $50,000 a year for 10 years at age 65 if she would stay at MSU five years. She did that and is now on her second five-year deferred compensation plan, with the same requirements.

Going forward, she would receive $56,600 a year for a retirement savings plan but without the requirement that she stay another five years, McRae, said.

The president of the Montana State Fund, Laurence Hubbard, who has been reported in the past to be the state’s highest paid employee, is listed on the state government transparency website as earning $189.90 an hour, which would be $394,992 per year, while Cruzado’s new salary would equate to $229.09 per hour.

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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