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More on the Real Petraeus Scandal

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There’s a quasi-defense of CUNY giving enough money to David Petraeus to pay 500 adjuncts, represented here, that I’ve seen multiple times:

Petraeus’ salary will be paid via private fund-raising, not public tax dollars, per NYDN.

This could fly as a defense of CUNY’s conduct under one circumstance only: if a fundraiser approached CUNY offering $150K for this purpose alone and could not be persuaded to allow CUNY to do something useful with it instead. Otherwise, as I said it’s no defense at all; the fact that CUNY is willing to spend money and raise it later for this purpose is not meaningfully different than using pre-existing funds. (After all, CUNY can only ask the same people for money so many times; money raised for purpose A probably can’t be raised for purpose B, and the choice of what to raise money for reflects the administration’s priorities.) Needless to say, what actually happened is closer to the opposite of this scenario:

Why so much? It turns out Petraeus became a coveted commodity among America’s most prestigious schools soon after F.B.I. agents uncovered his Gmail-aided affair with Paula Broadwell. (Indeed, he’s also teaching at USC.) But it seems like he’s far less coveted among wealthy donors. When asked if the “private gift” sought to fund Petraeus’s salary had been nailed down — less than a month before Petraeus begins teaching — the school’s Director of Communications emailed back: “The University is in the process of fundraising for this position.”

So, not only did donors not initiate the hire, they are substantially less enthusiastic about it than the CUNY administration. It must be said that this shows admirable discernment among New York’s donor class. Given the many problems facing American universities (someone suggested that access to higher ed and the student debt crisis should have been mentioned in my list of progressive priorities, and I think it’s a solid argument), it’s hard to imagine a more useless way of spending money. I mean, Yglesias has been making the case for years about why you shouldn’t donate to your ivy league alma mater, but even that would be a much better idea than donating money so that a random famous person can make 150 grand performing some of the duties of a college instructor for a couple seminars.

And, really, you don’t have to ask me if this is indefensible — just ask the behavior of the administration. There’s overwhelming circumstantial evidence that the offer was made somewhat less grotesque after the word got out.

Pareene gets the big picture right, and Paul has also been making this point repeatedly; it’s all part of the same massive grift. Rich people get used to and mutually benefit from paying other rich people obscene sums of money for doing something or other, and have developed rationalizations that allow such vulgar considerations as costs and benefits to go out the window. You all know the double standards by now. A Chicago schoolteacher making $55K a year is living a life of unimaginable luxury; a Chicago law professor making $400k a year is living a hardscrabble existence and can he have his tax cuts now, please. Massive pay increases to CEOs of dubious quality are lauded; layoffs of ordinary workers are applauded by the market. To return to the collegiate level, a not very accomplished coach with no bargaining leverage making $3 million a year is fine, but if one of the players putting his health at risk to generate the revenues that pay for it gets a 2-for-1 Big Mac coupon from a booster it’s a threat to the Noble Ideals of Amateurism that will constitute the greatest scandal except for steroids ever. This is the context in which CUNY can offer a random recently disgraced famous person the same money per hour that it pays its adjuncts for a semester, and apparently didn’t anticipate that anyone would object.

UPDATE: More here. See especially the 8:15 update.

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  • Malaclypse

    Petraeus’ salary will be paid via private fund-raising, not public tax dollars, per NYDN.

    Of course, even if this is true, and even if the restrictions you posit could possibly hold, those private contributions are almost certainly tax-deductible.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    This could fly as a defense of CUNY’s conduct under one circumstance only: if a fundraiser approached CUNY offering $150K for this purpose alone and could not be persuaded to allow CUNY to do something useful with it instead.

    I’m not sure it’s even a defense in this circumstance. Universities–especially public ones–should not accept gifts that are so restricted. Doing so would just be an invitation for the wealthy to entirely reshape a school’s faculty and curriculum.

    • BigHank53

      Have you checked out what the Koch Foundation is doing? Who set up the Mercatus Center at George Mason? There’s at least one school with an Ayn Rand chair now. University presidents would not only sell their grandmothers for a billionaire’s pocket change, they’d slaughter her, butcher her, and deliver the vacuum-packed results personally.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        Exactly. The point is that a donor’s insisting that their money be spent a particular way is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for the university. When Texas millionaire Lee Bass tried to too closely dictate how Yale University should spend money he offered it in the 1990s, Yale gave him his money back. That’s what universities ought to do in this scenario. But they almost never do (and, of course, it’s easier for a wealthy institution like Yale to do it than for a poorer institution)…indeed public institutions often trumpet such positions as examples of public-private partnerships.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Right, to be clear there still may be good reasons to turn down that kind of gift, but without that kind of condition the argument fails even on its own terms.

    • Foregone Conclusion

      They’re also a hideous inconvenience to administer. One millionaire set up a centre ‘for the research of the future’ at a prestigious British university. Basically, it’s a few seminar rooms in a basement and the occasional lecture, perhaps a one-day conference every couple of years. In doing so, they eventually had to evict a library when the ‘school’ needed refurbishing. I’m pretty sure there’s some skilful accounting to shift money to actual proper research and teaching, though – well, I hope so.

      • cpinva

        ” I’m pretty sure there’s some skilful accounting to shift money to actual proper research and teaching, though – well, I hope so.”

        trust me on this. my british peers are just as good at “re-allocating” funds, when given a proper incentive (like actually funding education, vs ego), as my American peers can be.

  • Dan

    Not for nothing, but adjunct pay is a scandal all its own.

  • Manta

    This is much worse than I thought: at the start, I thought that the P. jig was paid for his wealthy friends, and that the university was getting free publicity and some extra money on the side.

    • Manta

      mispell: “P. jig was paid BY his wealthy friends”

  • ChrisTS

    There is another important element of this circus: raising funds is, itself, an expense for the uni. Someone is making phone calls, sending letters and emails, and so on. Probably, potential donors are also being taken to lunch, feted, or sent lovely little mementos.

    Further, while raising money for P’s visit, whether doing so successfully or not, various employees are not raising funding for something else.

    You do not raise money without spending money.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Excellent point.

    • Hogan

      Hey, David Petraeus sells himself.

      No, really–he literally sells himself.

    • burritoboy

      I’m a fundraiser (I don’t work at a university, but the function is still essentially the same) – yes, it can take a lot of effort to do things like this. Unless some donor(s) has already said that they simply love Petraeus and want to shower him with money, you have to spend a lot of time talking about this thing and selling it to donors. Most donors are already on board for already existing programs and have already been extensively involved / educated / propagandized in that program or effort. To start up a new program can take years.

      It’s certainly possible to do, but it isn’t necessarily easy.

      • ChrisTS

        I teach at a SLAC, and the ‘small’ part means that faculty are sometimes asked to help out with fundraising. I have been astonished, at times, at what we lay out to get gifts. I’m not even sure anyone is really assessing the overall costs/benefits.

        • burritoboy

          Yes, it’s absolutely quite expensive. You usually hope that a reasonably good fundraiser will raise 3-5 times his or her salary. The best fundraisers in the business working for a really powerful fundraising operation (think a top 10 university, not CCNY) might do 10-20 times their salary in one of their better years.

          • ChrisTS

            I was not even thinking about salaries – though I should have been. I was thinking about the parties/dinners/college-related gift items/etc.

            It is such a …… strange…….. ‘business model.’

            It cost us 1.2 million (excluding salaries!) to get a 500-600 thousand gift. The Admin and fundraising folks tell me I am not seeing the ‘long pictures’ – whatever that means. (And, yes, they do use the plural.)

  • herr doktor bimler

    Petraeus’ salary will be paid via private fund-raising

    Where is this story coming from?
    The Chancellor is quite specific: CUNY would pay Petraeus $200K that they have on hand, but because this is self-evidently inadequate, it would be topped up by more (‘supplementary’) from private gifts yet to be secured.
    http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/18sizmzi3sqzsjpg/ku-xlarge.jpg

  • max

    Why so much? It turns out Petraeus became a coveted commodity among America’s most prestigious schools soon after F.B.I. agents uncovered his Gmail-aided affair with Paula Broadwell. (Indeed, he’s also teaching at USC.)

    Well presumably the Unis figured he wanted to run for president, so they’d give him a spot that could be named after him in the future (after he’d been elevated). Then they could fund raise off of that.

    Otherwise, this doesn’t make any sense at all.

    max
    [‘I’m not saying admins are free of corruption, I’m saying, why this guy to gift with the fruit of said corruption?’]

    • cpinva

      “Otherwise, this doesn’t make any sense at all.”

      agreed. look, I can see wanting a grant/lee/pershing/eisenhauer as a visiting prof., they would have some insightful thoughts to add, but a dan sickles?

  • Mike Schilling

    “The University is in the process of fundraising for this position.”

    So next they can host the America’s Cup.

  • rea

    CUNY giving enough money to David Petraeus to pay 500 adjuncts

    Well, yeah. What would CUNY do with 500 adjuncts? Next you’ll be suggesting that tuition should be free, or something . . .

  • Sooner

    The higher-ups are always pumped to meet famous people. Board, administration, etc. I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that. Sitting in the luxury box with Petraeus is motivation enough; think of the dinner stories. Enviable dinner stories. People are pissed? Oh, then let’s calm the waters and tap some of our mounds of discretionary income to fund the project. Worth it for the dinner story. When you have those mounds of discretionary income, infidelity is par for the course. Completely understandable behavior from a man of his stature. What we’re really interested in is how badass some of those new weapons are. More dinner/golf stories.

    • rea

      Sitting in the luxury box with Petraeus

      Does CUNY even have sports teams?

      • Sooner

        CUNY sports? I’m talking Knicks, Giants, Yankees. That’s when the real decisions get made.

      • Bill Murray

        well there was the big point shaving scandal back in the 50s when it was still CCNY. CCNY won the NCAA and NIT tournaments in 1951. Also, the scandal was mentioned on the Sopranos

    • Sooner

      It seems rather bizarre that the Dean of the Honors College, noted as having recommended the appointment of Petraeus based on the CUNY Board of Trustee minutes, has also been a director of the Apollo Group since 2007. How do these important people juggle all these responsibilities? And how do they deal with the contradictions of “serving” CUNY, while being compensated by Apollo Group?

      • Hogan

        How do these important people juggle all these responsibilities?

        You know what they say–if you want to get something done, ask a sleazy person.

        • ChrisTS

          Applause.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      Yeah, if they wanted to attract more students, they should have tried to hire Lady Gaga.

  • Thanks for explaining why D.P. got the gig. I couldn’t figure it out since we’re not exactly talking Sun Tzu here. But a sinecure for one of the chaps makes sense.

    • we’re not exactly talking Sun Tzu here.

      Maybe, maybe not…

      “The supreme art of war is to fuck the enemy without fighting.”

      “All sex is based on deception.”

      “Keep your friends close, and your media closer.”

  • Epsilon

    You know, I come here for the trenchant analysis and information, but I keep coming back for sentences like this.

    To return to the collegiate level, a not very accomplished coach with no bargaining leverage making $3 million a year is fine, but if one of the players putting his health at risk to generate the revenues that pay for it gets a 2-for-1 Big Mac coupon from a booster it’s a threat to the Noble Ideals of Amateurism that will constitute the greatest scandal except for steroids ever.

    Love it.

  • Karla

    Isn’t an adjunct typically paid $1500-$3000 per course? That is a scandal in itself, but that’s 50 to 100 times less than $150,000, not 500.

  • Johnny Sack

    Can’t wait till some of those hardscrabble law professors learn the hard way that Cravath doesn’t care that you spent a year with them 20 years ago.

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  • herr doktor bimler

    There is an elegant twist of circularity involved…

    “Why is Petraeus teaching here?”

    “Because he is a master of the arts of Failing Upwards and image control. Students will flock to CUNY to hear him teach — even when the nominal subject is one where he’s unqualified — in the hope of learning some of his secrets.”

    “But how can we be sure that he’s a master of the art of Failing Upwards?”

    “Because he’s teaching here.”

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