The ‘General David Petraeus is teaching at CUNY for a ludicrous amount’ scandal has been brewing for a while now. To catch up on its all its salacious, rage-provoking details, you could do worse than check out Corey Robin‘s coverage. In brief: cash-strapped urban public university invites retired US military figure to teach one course for an astronomical salary–the funding source for which remains dubious. This is the same university whose infrastructure is in disrepair, which cannot adequately fund research conducted by its faculty members, nor keep tuition for its students from rising every year. (To add final insult to injury, check out the poorly-written, skimpy course description of the Petraeus dropping, er, offering.)
A few years ago, I attended a CUNY Board of Trustees meeting. (I have attempted, in the past, on this blog, to provide some background on these worthies.) During the meeting, the subject of the generous pay packages for CUNY top administrators, which were in sharp contrast to the meager raises then being offered to CUNY faculty, came up. The faculty union representative pointed out the impropriety of sharply increasing salaries for adminstrators at a time when faculty were not even being paid cost-of-living increases. Benno Schmidt, now Chair of the Board of Trustees, and possibly Chair back then as well, spoke up sharply: ‘The faculty needs to learn that in order to get good work done at the university, you need to pay good money. If they think that’s expensive, they’ll find out just how expensive it is to not pay good money’. (This outburst was followed by an anti-union rant by the notorious Jeffrey Weisenfeld, which was met with much head-nodding by those seated around the table.)
I’ve never forgotten that meeting or that statement. There was no way to efface the memory of the belligerent, pompous expression on Schmidt’s face, simultaneously suffused with the smug satisfaction of the worst kind of sanctimonious hybrid: the businessman-priest. There, in that attitude, that defiance, that anger at the union representative who had dared speak up, was encapsulated a great deal.
Higher education is a cash cow; there’s gold in them thar hills. University administrators know this, which is why, in recent times, they have swelled their ranks and their salaries at the expense of everyone else in the business. All those MOOC companies lining up to get the fat online education contracts from soon to be privatized public universities–once the greatest advertisement in the world for public education–know this. And like any other sector of the American economy the educational one showcases economic inequality: students, adjuncts, faculty all make do with very little, while the ‘management’ gets richer and richer.
And most importantly, this management class takes care of its own. They ensure generous retirement packages for each other and when they see a brother looking for a new gig, especially after a scandalous hiccup or two, like Petraeus, they run to help. Besides, the backscratching will go the other way too. After all, won’t Petraeus, down the line, take care of, somehow or the other, his new buddies on the CUNY Board of Trustees too? Connections to the halls of power, perhaps some consulting at the Pentagon or the CIA, down the line?
CUNY administrators and the members of the Board of Trustees aren’t just doing this to raise the university’s profile; they are doing this because they are good networkers.