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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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