U of C Admin Pay Exposé Goes Viral

HeraldBlog Contributor

Informal tallies indicate that a surprisingly broad and deep response met my June 7th analysis of University of Chicago administrative pay.

Published online in the progressive magazine Jacobin, “Higher Ed’s For-Profit Future” asserted that top U. of C. staff received and concealed extreme compensation increases as debt has increased and at least 2 trustee-associated companies have profited from administrative actions.

New information includes:
- President Robert Zimmer’s compensation doubled over 5 years thanks to $115,000-$320,000 annual increases, while outgoing Provost and incoming Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum is “due to take with him $1 million from pay raises” since 2007.
- Zimmer’s “unusual 110%, $1.76 million pay spike” in 2011-2012 is “an extreme outlier” with no parallel at peer institutions.
- The U. of C. News Office released an apparently deceptive statement minimizing Zimmer’s compensation increases.
- Staff directing the apparently deceptive News Office response were not identified despite multiple inquiries to Zimmer, Rosenbaum, incoming Provost Eric Isaacs, Vice President David Fithian, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Andrew Alper.

Over 335,000 Twitter followers in North and South America, Europe, and Asia received notification of the article via tweets and re-tweets, including in Japanese.

Tweeters included the U. of C. student government president, Students for Health Equity trauma center activists, academics at top tier institutions like UC-Berkeley and McGill, and a wide range of authors and editors of publications ranging from Chicago Magazine and DNAinfo Chicago to Forbes Magazine, ProPublica, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Self-identified U. of C. graduates constituted one notable Twitter demographic, and they seemed particularly worried about “financial management” and use of “alumni dollars”.

Beyond Twitter, two major U. of C. faculty groups circulated the analysis by email, and both the left and right wings of the internet responded in as well. New School history professor Claire Potter used her Chronicle of Higher Education “Tenured Radical” blog to reflect on the inappropriate diversion of money to top non-profit staff, while political writer Warner Todd Huston said U of C “is a perfect mirror of how liberals are running government into the ground” because of “high pay for no performance, to people with no accountability, all paid by other people’s money.”

Huston’s piece, entitled “The University of Chicago Needs Some Occupy Wall Street,” also moved discussion into sections of Twitter frequented by the Tea Party and the Occupy movement.

Overall, widespread recognition of a problem is an important first step toward meaningful change.

Now, the next and more important step is discussion of real long-term solutions, like creating another layer of institutional checks-and-balances through faculty and degree holder election of trustees.