Greg Kegel

The Montana Board of Regents has awarded an 8% pay raise to Greg Kegel, chancellor of Montana State University-Northern, to keep a leader who’s doing a good job at a struggling campus.

The regents voted 6-1 last week to raise Kegel’s salary from $179,150 to $193,800.

Waded Cruzado, president of the MSU Bozeman campus and Kegel’s boss, recommended the retention raise, saying it would ensure much-needed stability and progress at the four-year Havre campus.

Kegel has done “a very good job stabilizing enrollment, though it’s not yet where we want to be,” Cruzado said. The chancellor has been an active fundraiser and his annual performance reviews are exemplary, she said.

“We’d like to keep Chancellor Kegel with us a few more years before he retires,” she said. “This is a well-deserved recognition.”

Regent Paul Tuss of Havre agreed, calling Kegel a very committed and dynamic leader.

Regent Martha Sheehy of Billings cast the lone no vote. She said her opposition had nothing to do with Kegel and she meant no disrespect. Rather, Sheehy said she objected to the regents making decisions on leaders’ pay without an overall policy.

In November, the regents approved an unprecedented $150,000 pay raise for Cruzado to keep her from leaving and taking a bigger offer at another university. That brought her salary to $476,524, making her the highest paid employee in Montana state government.

“I thought we made it clear that was an extraordinary event,” Sheehy said. “I don’t like making policy on a case-by-case basis.”

Sheehy acknowledged Kegel’s salary was among the lowest for state campus leaders, but said some would argue that’s appropriate given the college’s small size.

Sheehy asked whether the top three employees of the Montana University System should all continue to receive the same salary as they have historically but have not since Cruzado’s extraordinary raise. She asked if there were any set performance measurements to go by.

Clay Christian, commissioner of higher education, said the regents do have a policy to offer raises needed for retaining good people, raises that happen fairly frequently with employees at all levels.

Regents Chair Casey Lozar of Helena said he favored the raise because Kegel had made significant progress and Northern needs a leader like him. Lozar added it’s tough when the regents directly approve only 11 leaders’ salaries not to see each one as an individual situation.

“In the next three to four years, we will be better off with Chancellor Kegel continuing to lead,” Lozar said.

Regent Bob Nystuen agreed that Kegel had done an “incredible” job.

Kegel, who has worked at Northern since 1982, was a professor of industrial technology and dean before he was picked as interim chancellor in 2014. In 2015, Cruzado named him to the chancellor’s job permanently.

He raised more than $4 million to match money from the Legislature to build a new auto-diesel technology building, which opened in 2018. Before that he helped raise more than $5 million for a new Applied Technology Center and $5 million in grants to build an Advanced Fuels building.

In the last year MSU-Northern has raised nearly $2.6 million toward the $3 million needed to build a new football stadium that would also serve as a center for campus and community events. Kegel has said it would bring people to the Havre campus in new and exciting ways.

Enrollment has been a problem for several years at the Northern campus, slipping from 1,334 in 2013 to 1,086 students last fall, though that was the first time in several years that enrollment had increased slightly. Kegel told the Havre Daily News that the campus has been working to grow enrollment in elementary education, nursing and trades.

After Kegel’s raise, the only campus leaders earning less are two women leading two-year colleges, Susan Wolff, dean of Great Falls College MSU, and Laura Vosejpka, dean of Helena College. Both have more students than the Havre campus.

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

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