This column was written by Nicholas Von Hoffman.
Anybody having a few problems paying off student loans will feel better after getting acquainted with Vanderbilt University's chancellor, E. Gordon Gee. Mr. Gee gets paid $1.4 million a year for doing his chancellorizing.
That does not completely cover Gee's compensation "package," as they like to call it when a person's pay begins to nose up into the stratosphere. It does not include the $6 million spent to spruce up his official residence. Nor does it include what it costs to provide Gee with a private chef, entertaining expenses and other what-nots essential to his work, which runs to the tune of $700,000 per annum.
If you think that publication of these figures has put Gee's job in jeopardy, you are dead wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. Gee is in the best of odors with his board of trustees. The last thing in the world they have in mind is giving him the boot.
High hoggism is by no means restricted to Gee. The Wall Street Journal reports, for example, that "American University last fall forced out President Benjamin Ladner after auditors questioned more than $500,000 in expenditures by him and his wife. The Washington, DC, university paid for the couple's birthday parties and European vacations in first-class hotels, according to the audit. Investigators found the Ladners once stopped in Rome on a business trip to Dubai so she could have her hair cut by a favorite stylist."
California, which is often the first and largest in whatever is under discussion, has lived up to its reputation in the matter of pay for state university and college officials. An audit last spring uncovered $334 million in pay and perks to higher education administrators, which nobody outside the ring of participants in the largesse had known about previously.
Included in that $334 million package was a $30,000 dog run, although I am at a loss to guess how you could spend so much money on such a thing. The dog run was ordered up by the late Denice Denton, chancellor of the University of California at Santa Cruz, who committed suicide after that and her other expenditures came to light. Denton had a person described as her "partner" on the university teat at $192,000, which was less than one-third of the $600,000 she spent on her home with what is really student money.
Salaries and other compensations of staggering size are by no means rare in higher education. Audrey Doberstein, head of Wilmington College in Delaware, pulled down $1,370,000 before she retired last year. There is a whole clutch of college presidents at the $800,000 and $900,000 level who we can reasonably expect will burst into the seven figures before long.
High hogismo is not restricted to college presidents, as this dispatch from the Chronicle of Higher Education shows: "The University of Wisconsin at Whitewater has asked a former dean to repay $113,611 in credit-card charges, but the former dean says he thinks most of the charges are legitimate.
"In a letter last month to Howard L. Ross, who was dean of the College of Letters and Sciences from 1993 until last April, university officials asked Mr. Ross to provide either reimbursement or additional justification for expenditures over a six-year period. The expenses include charges for travel, movie rentals, computer equipment purchases, and a subscription to an online dating service."
What do college presidents say about this? William Chace, a former president of Emory and Wesleyan universities, writing on the New York Times op-ed page as though he were addressing the student body at imaginary Laudable College, had this to say: "In public four-year institutions, some 4 in 10 undergraduates get financial aid. At private places like Laudable, more than 80 percent of you do. Just like the auto industry, we have a sticker price and we have the price people really pay.
"And like car dealers, we force you to borrow money to help make up the difference. You will probably owe more than $20,000, on average, when you leave Laudable. Graduates of public institutions will owe, on average, more than $15,000."
Chace, however, blames the students and their families for the high price of college: "Laudable could be cheaper, but you wouldn't like it. You and your parents have made it clear that you want the best. That means more spacious and comfortable student residences ('dormitories,' we used to call them), gyms with professional exercise equipment, better food of all kinds, more counselors to attend to your growing emotional needs, more high-tech classrooms and campuses that are spectacularly handsome."
As for how colleges apportion their moneys, he writes "Your professors aren't overpaid. But I am. I take home more money at Laudable than anyone else (save some of the clinical physicians over at our hospital and several coaches). My pay is about five times greater than an average faculty member's."
A multiple of five is modest compared to most profit-making corporations where the boss takes home 100 or 200 times what the serfs make. You can be confident that in the next generation, college presidents will make up a lot of that gap.
In the meantime it's entertaining to go to the retirement ceremonies for these worthy bozos and listen to the speeches outlining the sacrifices they have made for education.
By Nicholas Von Hoffman
Reprinted with permission from The Nation