The new chancellor of the University of Maine System announced Thursday that he has suspended all future discretionary salary increases and will examine recent raises granted through a systemwide position-review program.

James Page, who started work as chancellor Tuesday, said he also plans to assess all compensation policies as part of a comprehensive review of system operations requested by the board of trustees when they hired him.

Page took action in response to a story in The Portland Press Herald about the financial impact of the system’s eight-year-old Salaried Employees Compensation and Classification Program at the University of Southern Maine.

The story reported that USM gave 44 salary increases totaling $242,000 in the budget year that started July 1, 2011, following position reviews initiated by employees or their supervisors. Individual raises during that period ranged from $1,400 to $34,514 per year.

The university, which has given nearly $1 million in discretionary raises ranging from 3 percent to 64 percent annually over the past four years, faces $5.1 million in budget cuts in the next fiscal year that will likely result in staff reductions.

“I am troubled by these reports,” Page said on March 22, adding that he’s glad the information came to light. Page declined to say exactly what troubled him in the story, but that from now on, no discretionary salary increases will be given without his approval.

Page’s immediate response impressed state Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, who is co-chairman of the Legislature’s education committee and has his own concerns about the university system’s salary increases based on the Press Herald’s report.

“After only two days on the job, it shows me that this new chancellor is going to be a responsive, take-charge kind of guy,” Langley said. “I’m sure the system’s salary policies are going to generate a lot of questions among my colleagues because my committee likes to go down those roads.”

The system’s position-review program was instituted in 2005 to provide employees who took on additional duties a way to seek salary increases ensuring they would be paid competitive, fair wages.

Discretionary increases continued to be given to 30 to 46 USM employees per year over the past three years while most other employees received no regular raises during the same period. The administration has offered little or no pay increases to most employees in the year ahead.

The system has a $531 million operating budget, about 31,000 students and about 5,000 employees. The Salaried Employees Compensation and Classification Program targeted about 1,800 union and nonunion workers, excluding faculty, deans, vice presidents and directors of major divisions.

“I support the board of trustees’ goal of giving broad discretion to its presidents in how they organize their teams for success,” Page said. “That being said, the board of trustees has directed me to conduct a comprehensive review of the entire system to ensure that we meet our mission of excellence in a financially responsible and sustainable way.”

Given that 70 percent of the seven-university system’s costs are personnel-related, Page said, compensation will factor greatly in his review.

Page said he will review the annual impact of the position-review program at universities throughout the system. If any changes are warranted, he will make recommendations to the trustees, he said.

Because the system is a public institution, Page said, “any compensation programs and policies have to reflect the people of Maine.”

He said Mainers have an “inherent sense of equity and fair play” and a “great respect for people’s knowledge and experience.”

It’s sometimes difficult to balance those two aspects, Page said, but that will be his goal in reviewing the system’s compensation policies and practices.

CORRECTION: This story was updated on April 2 to reflect that the University of Maine System’s enrollment is about 31,000 students.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com