The Montana Board of Regents approved a $500,000 deferred compensation plan for University of Montana President Seth Bodnar, plus a 2% pay raise for both Montana State University President Waded Cruzado and Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian at its meeting in Bozeman on Friday.

All three administrators – including Bodnar -- will receive a boost in salary from their current $320,122 to $326,524, effective Jan. 1. 

Also included in the vote is a 2% pay raise for 1,700 classified employees in the university system. 

The deferred compensation plan, implemented again when the regents hired Bodnar in 2017, is a common method used in other states, Kevin McRae, deputy commissioner for human resources, told the regents on Thursday in Bozeman.

“It was publicly stated that deferred compensation was a possibility for the University of Montana president,” said McRae.

Bodnar would receive $50,000 per year multiplied by 10 years, providing what McRae described as a benefit over the long term.

“By deferring it and giving investment time to work, the cost of that benefit will be substantially less,” said McRae, “In our estimation, it will easily be half of that total cost, depending on whether there is potential assistance from the University of Montana Foundation in contributing to the investment and funding of it.”

The salary increase includes an additional deferred compensation plan of $150,000 for Cruzado, who has significantly increased student enrollment at MSU since she took the helm in 2010. The $150,000 raise boosts her salary next year to $476,524.

“I’m not leaving,” Cruzado told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Thursday after speculation that she an undisclosed bigger university had offered her a position. “My heart is at Montana State University. My family loves Montana. We have an extraordinary university here.”

Following the approved deferred compensation plan and the proposed 2% raise for 11 of the top 13 university system administrators, Christian and his staff will continue to reach out to UM Foundation President Cindy Williams, whom McRae said is very interested in a partnership. 

Regent Martha Sheehy said that while the process of compensating presidents gives her “heartburn,” she would prefer a different review process.

“I feel how difficult it is to not explain the past to candidates,” she said. “However, this is an appropriate measure, given our past and the situation we’re in today.”

Regents roundly praised Cruzado and her many successes at MSU the past nine years. When regents renewed her initial pay agreement in 2015, it stipulated that Cruzado could receive up to $1 million in deferred compensation.

On Thursday, many regents hinted that Cruzado gained some leverage in the current proposed salary process via another offer, but they were quick to sing her praises.

“The amount of retaining talent only escalates by the year,” said Regent Bob Nystuen told Cruzado. “I wish we had an open checkbook to do more, my friend.”

Because the regents must expect what Sheehy described as “great changes” in areas such as accreditation at the national level and a new administration at the state level in 2020, retaining Cruzado is even more important.

“She’s also serving MSU Northern, Great Falls and Billings – and those institutions deserves some stability,” added Sheehy.

At least eight other top Montana University System administrators will also receive salary increases:

  • Dan Edelman, MSU Billings chancellor, from $229,500 to


  • Beth Weatherby, UM Western chancellor, from $190,081 to


  • Greg Kegel, MSU Northern chancellor, from $175,638 to


  • Brock Tessman, deputy commissioner for academic, research and student affairs, $170,850 to $174,267.
  • Tyler Trevor, deputy commissioner for budget and planning and chief of staff, from $168,300 to $171,666.
  • Kevin McRae, deputy commissioner for human resources, from $142,958 to $145,817.
  • Vivian Hammill, deputy commissioner for legal affairs/chief council, from $142,958 to $145,817.
  • Susan Wolff, Great Falls College MSU dean/CEO, from $138,542 to $141,313.

Montana Tech Chancellor Les Cook, in his first year, will maintain the same salary at $249,500.

Helena College Dean/CEO Laura Vosejpka, in her first year at the help, will maintain the same salary, at $145,000.


Contact Business Reporter Renata Birkenbuel at 406-565-0013 and