The Lessons of the Megalomaniac University President

Universities are not businesses, and university presidents are not CEOs

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GUS CHAN / The Plain Dealer / Landov

Doctorate students at Ohio State University listen as president E. Gordon Gee introduces them during commencement on May 5, 2013

If you want a glimpse into what has gone wrong with higher education in America, look no further than the brilliant career of E. Gordon Gee, who as of July 1 will be the ex-president of Ohio State University (and of Brown and Vanderbilt, as well as the flagship public universities of Colorado and West Virginia).

If he had been born at another time, Gee might have sold patent medicines or swampy real estate or a new political party. Instead, he spent the past three decades selling the ever bigger business of American higher ed.

(MORE: Yes, Really: Private Colleges Offering More Financial Aid Than Ever)

Gee had a talent for, in the jargon of our business schools, finding ways to monetize synergistic brand relationships in the context of a dynamic marketing environment. Translation: he raised a lot of money, mainly by doing things like jacking up tuition (Ohio residents now pay 150% more in real inflation-adjusted dollars to attend OSU than they did when Gee first became president of the school in 1990), “privatizing” university parking and getting well-heeled alumni to cough up ever larger sums of cash, in the form of tax-deductible donations.

All this made him, in the eyes of politicians in state houses and on boards of regents, a great success. After all, if higher education is really just another business, then it ought to be evaluated in terms of revenue and earnings, and balance sheets, and profit-and-loss statements. When OSU hired Gee, it was also in full awareness of his propensity to spend lavishly to meet those business goals, as he did when he was a “star” chancellor at Vanderbilt.

(MORE: Money Talking: Is College Worth It?)

One thing that rarely gets asked in the context of all this getting and spending is, What exactly is that money supposed to be for? In theory, of course, it’s for “education.” In practice, a whole lot of it goes directly into the pockets of a metastasizing cadre of university administrators, whose jobs, as nearly as I’ve been able to determine after being on a research university’s faculty for nearly a quarter-century, consist of inventing justifications for their own existence while harassing faculty to fill out evaluations of various kinds. (In a particularly Kafkaesque twist, many of these evaluations are supposed to be of the administrators’ own job performance.)

In Gee’s case, the sums of money involved are disgusting. At the time he was apparently forced out after having made a few tactless jokes in a private meeting, Gee was getting paid about $2 million per year. This does not include the $7.7 million that the university paid for Gee’s travel, housing and entertainment from 2007 to 2012 — a sum that included at least $895,000 for soirees at Gee’s university-provided mansion, more than a half-million dollars for private jet travel and “$64,000 on his trademark bow ties, bow-tie cookies, O-H lapel pins and bow-tie pins for university marketing.”

Ah, yes, “marketing.”

Gee also increased the size of the university’s senior staff by 30% and raised their average salaries by 63%, to $539,390 in 2011. To get a sense of how out of control university-administrator compensation has become, consider that a year before Gee began his first tenure as Ohio State’s president, the president of Harvard was paid $138,044 ($256,000 in 2012 dollars), and only eight university presidents in the entire nation made more than $200,000. Now, thanks to Gee and his ilk, there are dozens of administrators at Ohio State University alone who would consider that sum an insult.

Universities are not businesses, and university presidents are not CEOs. These institutions exist for reasons other than to maximize their revenue and enrich their management class. That it is even necessary to point this out illustrates the extent to which we have allowed the mentality of what investment bankers call “the market” to invade every aspect of American culture.

MORE: Money for Nothing: Rutgers Scandal Shines Bad Light on College-Sports Search Firms

32 comments
cjh2nd
cjh2nd

in what world are universities not businesses? presidents may not be CEOs, but universities are most definitely businesses. thinking otherwise is just naive and stupid

boomer
boomer

I have BA and MD degrees at Ohio State and after completing my post-graduate studies at prestigious East Coast institutions, I was recruited to become a faculty member at the medical college of my alma mater where I stayed for over 5 years.  I completely agree with the author that the culture has changed dramatically since my student days.  The medical center preaches research and education but practices community medicine since this brings in the revenue.  I have no idea where the millions of dollars that Gee raised went, but I was appalled at the salaries and bonuses that the administrators receive (base salaries: http://www.collegiatetimes.com/databases/salaries/ohio-state-university).  Personally, I was forced to fund much of my own research including the costs of the resulting publications which are supposed to raise the profile of the university out of my pocket.  Physicians were grossly underpaid and as a result there is a revolving door in many departments where fresh medical graduates go to OSU to gather experience before moving on.  Despite some exceptions, the main emphasis from their leadership is on generating revenue to pay for new buildings and coaches/administrators salaries, not on encouraging research and education.  OSU is a school with tremendous potential but I was very happy to leave the situation there behind.

ccf2013
ccf2013

http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1937938_1937934_1937914,00.html


Wow Time, please don't post any more articles from Paul Campos. In the above link you named Gordon Gee the top University President in the nation. Now Paul is calling him the root of problems for higher education. This contradiction is embarrassing.


Also Paul, can you find some basis to your research other than the increase in money going to Gee and administrators? Maybe look at how the academic standards at The Ohio State University have skyrocketed since Dr. Gee has taken over? Might be of relevance. Generally when I look at an increase in spending I attempt to consider the results of that increase.


I'm going to base my opinion on the actual Time link. The link which required research to write. Not this "Time Ideas" farce. 

aschu11
aschu11

The author of this article went to Michigan for undergrad and law school.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Campos.  Tell me he's not biased.

Malen
Malen

@aschu11 Because old cheesy rivalries are really what drive people to put their professional careers on the line. Grow up, there's more to life than college football.

JackieOrinda
JackieOrinda

@aschu11 Get real, he knows Michigan is most likely just as bad.  It's not about the individual school, its about corruption.

edavis2990
edavis2990

Yes, there is truth in this article. He did have the ability to spend a lot of money and make changes at the university. However, what is doesn't say is that these actions were not a result of his own doing. Gee did not single handedly increase his own salary, the size of the staff, or create his own budget. Every party he had, every trip he took, everything he did on the university dollar was public information and University approved. All of this was known and condoned by the Board of Trustees. To paint him as a megalomaniac is completely absurd. Gee did not have a delusional urge for power or relevance. The bottom line is the same traits you are criticizing him for now are the same qualities that TIME used to name him the top college President.

JamesAlbert
JamesAlbert

Gordon Gee is one of the most beloved administrators to ever grace The Ohio State campus. The student loved him because he was always there for any of their needs. He attended functions, protests, parties, and Football games. He made sure the school had the best teachers and the finest campus in the land. Feel free to attack his spending. It was this same spending that attracted the finest educators to want to come to Ohio State. He Started the expansion of OSU medical that will carry it into the 21st century as an Elite medical and research program.   Self promotion and the promotion of the school are interchangeable because Gordon Gee was the Face of Ohio State. I'm not saying he was perfect. He was a throwback to an era that was less PC and had a sense of humor. So yes, he ruffled feathers sometimes with his comments and attempts at humor. Gordon Gee knew what could be done with the money the school received and used it accordingly. Giving us the finest campus in America, in all aspects, is his Legacy. Feel free to attack him all you want. To us and him, you don't matter. You didn't' go to OSU or live in this city. I, for one, will miss Gordon Gee and I thank him for everything he's done for the university. OH-IO.

Geomriser
Geomriser

A significant part of the increasing cost of both health care and higher education can be attributed to the ridiculous salaries paid to middle level administrators (usually MBA's) employed by each and every college/university and by each and every hospital in the country.   The same sort of takover has been occurring in medicine over the past several decades.... 

We seem to have forgotten that hospitals, like colleges and universities, " exist for reasons other than to maximize their revenue and enrich their management class."

sylviakronstadt
sylviakronstadt

Why don't those greedy, pompous fools slash their own salaries to a sensible, middle-class level -- the level that most of their students' parents make -- and set in motion a revolution out of our "top one percent" society? Wouldn't integrity be more enjoyable than another Lexus or cashmere bathrobe? Wouldn't the respect and affection of students be worth more than a ski-resort chalet?

    Isn't the university the ideal place for a new commitment to economic justice to begin? In its current practices, the university aggressively perpetuates our society's growing disparities. It can't go on like this. It will end, one way or another. I'm starting to feel nostalgic about guillotines.

    Remember when university presidents led their particular institutions for decades, with a courtliness and a deep love for the life of the mind? Remember when they were actually scholars -- embodying our highest values -- instead of testosterone-engorged empire-builders? 

    Don't these puffed-up people, who ought to be among the most enlightened and morally centered in our society, perceive the disconnect between who they should be and who they are? Are they not introspective or self-aware enough to find another measure of self-esteem than MONEY? And don't they realize that this isn't about their self-esteem, anyway?

    It's the students, stupid.

    It's not about you. Or the "state-of-the-art" skyscrapers designed by "world-class architects." It's not about getting the best football coach that money can buy. It's not about bribing Nobel laureates to park their butts in one of your fabulous laboratories -- not to teach, of course, but to bring that ineffable glow of international fame to the campus. It's not about "branding," which universities are paying thousands of former advertising superstars hundreds of thousands of dollars to do. They might very well recycle old product slogans from their Madison Avenue heyday's, such as Coke's 2011 come-on: “Life Begins Here.” 

    In my July 2011 blog post, "The Boys Club: How Men Ruin Everything" (http://kronstantinople.blogspot.com/2011/07/boys-club-how-men-ruin-everything_06.html), I quoted a departing member of a Board of Regents as saying, "The campus has become a major economic engine, and is more like a big business than a university."

    That is just plain sad. And the profiteers are just plain sickening.

poomakmak
poomakmak

His salary and ego is certainly not based on his scholarship. A library of congress search shows he has never sole authored a book, but instead has done a lot of anthologies with others, and much of the material retreaded from one book to another.

MicahWarren
MicahWarren

and on that note, introducing the next president of Princeton University... Chris Eisgruber

Anonymous4321
Anonymous4321 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Universities are non-profit organizations- a form of business. The more money a president brings in, the better a university becomes in every aspect, from facilities to faculty. A president should act as a CEO and universities should be treated as a business. Period.

rivival37
rivival37

@Anonymous4321 Money and quality are different things.  Money is necessary to keep a business going, but it will not last without quality.  The ridiculous trend in administrative salaries hurts universities, and isolates the administration from the student body.  And from a business perspective, that means it isolates the administration from its customers, so it is bound to do a lower quality job.  Ergo, we are well into the region where higher pay means poorer performance.

123MathMan
123MathMan

Hahaha.  All of the points in the article are categorically true.  What isn't true is that somehow Gordon Gee is responsible for it.  The system has changed drastically since Reagan although it certainly didn't start with Reagan.  It started hundreds of years ago when the U.S. adopted class as its foundational social characteristic.  That is, class-based corporate capitalism.  To stop the king's private bankers, trading companies and land corporations that guaranteed property rights to the capitalist and political class of birthright, rank and title privilege while enslaving everyone else to do their will and to steal their surplus value.  You remember?  We fought the Revolutionary War to stop the king's tyranny of capitalism.  I thought democracy and freedom were void of class, title and rank?  That all human life was equally worthy.  Of course, it really didn't even start two hundred years ago.  It started with the dawn of man.

Does that mean everyone in the system who has benefited is a megalomaniac?  Well, if so, the first to be labeled one should be the author of this article and the self-righteous who will take the opportunity to pile on Gee in the comments.   What is Gee guilty of that everyone who votes in and supports this system isn't?  That is, other than being in the enviable position of power and wealth that most others who excoriate him secretly pr subconsciously wish they had themselves?  Everyone in this nation is generally unknowingly complicit.  We all generally represent some degree of reality that doesn't exist except through delusional ego-motivated belief systems.  It's the same delusion of people who believe capitalism is free and nobly fought against communism.  (All isms are state-based ideologies/religions of force and repression)  It's the same delusion that believes America sits high on a hill while the rest of the world should be raped and pillaged on behalf of our consumption.  It's the same delusion of college professors who have seen their department budgets and student population explode during the college education bubble that has been building for decades because the corporate state edicts everyone has to go to school to be guaranteed a living wage job and the corporate state dream of a "career" of serving our corporate masters.  It's the same delusion that wealth is created by doing each other's laundry in a service economy aka graduating in finance or business or the 90% of college curriculum that creates no advancement of science and productivity to enjoy a life of leisure.  It's the same delusion that public workers, businesses, law professors and the financial sector of our economy, etc, etc, etc (moochers and parasites) paid the highest wage jobs even though they destroy capital or wealth and live off the truly productive people in our society.   It's the same delusion that anyone with a college degree generally has no problem endlessly consuming products made by slave labor camps or by Americans making nonliving wages and benefits.  It's the same delusion that corporate marketing, Facebook, Google and the other benefactors created in an economy that relies on advertising and marketing propaganda of hyperconsumption.  It's the same delusion that causes the vast majority of Americans to cheer when the military-industrial complex blows the world into submission because freedom is spread through death and destruction and channeling Jesus to do so.  It's the same delusion that caused people to fight a war to keep African slavery and European indentured servitude because most were afraid to give up a system that was corrupt and vile because they weren't willing to contemplate change and how it might negatively affect their own self-interest.  It's the same delusion that made the vast majority of Americans loyalists to the tyrant king during the Revolutionary War because they didn't want to be personally-responsible for their own freedom.  They would rather a tyrant do it for them than confront the ego's fear-driven reallty.  It's the same delusion that exists today as most Americans support a system that continues to take more and more of our freedoms in the same of some omniscient bureaucrat who is going to keep us all safe so our ego doesn't have to take responsibility for it ourselves.  It's the same delusion that allowed Hitler and Lenin and Mussolini and Mao and endless caesars, thugs and dictatoros to come to power.  And on and on and on.

And most importantly, it's the same delusion that allows the person who wrote this article to be self-righteous even though they supported this system and have worked within it their entire life.  Just as their parents did and those before them.  Does Time truly support freedom of speech or will it censor me because I am confronting the self-righteous in the mainstream media who are very complicit in the fall of America.

Is this the fault of Gordon Gee?  He was just along for the ride just like you and me.  I was complicit.  You were complicit.  We were all complicit because everyone in life generally defines some large part of their reality by the ego's endless fear-based deceit and delusion.  Because personal responsibility and accountability are dynamics the ego will do anything to avoid.  It has just been recently that even a small amount of people have started to wake up from this delusion.  A delusion that is as old as man.  That is, the delusion of ego and its endless rationalizations and self-righteousness. 

You want to blame Gee?  That's fine.  But first look in the mirror.  Because you created him and all like him.  And what is truly reflective of reality is that it was you who allowed all of this to happen.  Because it served you well.  Because your ego doesn't really care about anyone else.  That's the human condition.  Are we all capable of true empathy, equality and human dignity?  Sure we are.  But we aren't born that way.  We have to mindful and aware of our own megalomaniacal weaknesses that define all of humanity in order to subsume the ego and exalt our own divinity or our mind's higher power.  To consciously be aware of our own weaknesses so we can exalt compassion, acceptance, dignity and equality for all of humanity.   We all suffer from the ego and there is no way to defeat it without the inner journey of self-awareness, mindfulness and the subconscious and conscious dynamics that create it. 

Forgive them father for they know not what they do. (because they are neither mindful or self-aware of the ignorant, delusional and self-righteous condition that defines their existence in this perception of human reality)

JackieOrinda
JackieOrinda

@123MathMan 

You are nuts, but that is on you.  Everyone doesn't envy him and his ilk, not do we live like him, did not create him,  support him or are responsible for him.  


123MathMan
123MathMan

You certainly did create him.  You supported decisions and voted for politicians and worked for corporations and went to colleges that created this social environment.  You can deny your own culpability all you want.  But YOU are responsible.  That doesn't mean you envy him.  But YOU created him and those like him.  

jfinkel
jfinkel like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

More important than your assessment of Gordon Gee is the archetype that he represents in higher education.  For nearly 20 years, along with another Ohio State alumna, we have been studying the corporatization of higher education--specifically using the proxy of university presidents service on corporate boards.  In our most recent, yet-to-be-published study, we also examined the contracts of nearly 100 presidents of public universities.  What we have found is, in my view quite worrisome.  These contracts are becoming increasingly sophisticated and bear little, if any, resemblance to the employment agreements of faculty.  More worrisome is our sense that these types of contracts are now finding their way downstream into contracts for provosts and deans.  Signing bonuses, performance bonuses, retention bonuses and completion bonuses are becoming the norm.  These are in addition to sophisticated tax avoidance schemes.  I know of at least one state attorney general that has been conducting a preliminary investigation of contracts that contained such provisions.  We've seen contracts that allow the board chair or only the executive committee provide additional bonuses--such as more paid vacation or additional consulting--without full board approval.  I call these  "Richard Grasso" provisions after the former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange.  Of course, cars, houses, expense accounts and parachutes are the norm. 

Unfortunately, we've also discovered that contracts are often amended with little disclosure.  Boards increasingly do this in executive session, often with an obscure reference.  We've even seen unspecified future liabilities listed in university foundation tax returns only to see these show up as compensation after a president steps down.

All of this is in addition to the ever increasing salaries of presidents.  Ironically, when the Chronicle publishes its annual salary review, this doesn't seem to have a sobering effect. Rather, my observation is that presidents use this information to renegotiate their contracts when they find that a peer or less now has a better compensation package.  It is a form of mutually assured compensation.   Further, the Chronicle doesn't capture total compensation over the life of a contract.  When you do this, it is not uncommon to find quite a few presidents averaging total compensation of over $1 million per year.  Add to this the value of corporate board seats, and million dollar a year presidents are quite common.

Several years ago, I attended a breakfast meeting of educational leaders from around the world.  The sociologist and pollster, Daniel Yankolovich was the speaker.  He spoke of the coming crisis of confidence in higher education.  The principal threat, he said would be a result of executive compensation.  That time is upon us.   

The last paragraph of this article is exactly right.  Universities are not businesses and presidents are not CEOs.  Unfortunately, no one has told our boards or our presidents.

James H. Finkelstein

Professor of Public Policy

George Mason University

JoMarch
JoMarch

@jfinkel please provide more information on your studies. I would like to read them. 

petitemaoiste
petitemaoiste

Sadly, the name of the Ohio State President might easily be replaced by that of a number of people running US universities, for example, look at what's happening at NYU, Cooper Union, etc.

CharlesInVermont
CharlesInVermont like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

The bottom line is that what he is doing is privatization of education.  Privatization never works for anybody except the share holders, in this case the upper administrators.  Its working because taxpayers blame the teachers for being over paid, mean while the overworked underpaid teachers are too busy to complain, and the prez and his cronies continue to rake in the money.  If teachers want reasonable working conditions, students want good learning conditions, and parents want reasonable tuition we are going to have to fix this.  The administrators will continue to fight for their right to rape and pillage the university, and they will not give up until they are forced to.


By the way, if you believe in privatization, check out what it does to water supplies, prison systems etc.  Capitalism only works if all the elements are there.  Privatization usually doesn't work because in most circumstances the privatized service is a monopoly.  With no checks in the form of competition businesses are far worse than government agencies that at least have to answer to the tax payers.

rivival37
rivival37

@CharlesInVermont The shareholders of a public school are the taxpayers.  In the case of most four year colleges and universities, taxpayers aren't really represented on the board.  Thus, the administrators do not answer to their shareholders, nor to their customers.

mary.waterton
mary.waterton like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Thank God somebody in the media is telling the truth about the university systems nationwide. The GREED and CORRUPTION rivals that of Wall Street.


God bless you Paul Campos for telling the truth!

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

"Universities are not businesses..."

what world are you living in? that's EXACTLY what they are and have been for years.  they shouldn't be, but they are. to claim otherwise is just ignorant

WAW
WAW

@cjh2nd they should be public and free

debussy0
debussy0

Thank you for telling the truth about bloated, egotistical educators who somehow feel they are entitled to huge salaries while doing little actual work. Travesty, indeed, especially given the hard real WORK that many of the students and their families do to pad the wallets/purses of these megalomaniacs! Fire them all and return to your roots: education!

rivival37
rivival37

@debussy0 Many of these administrators aren't educators.  They are managers who deal only in money.

lechatelierite
lechatelierite like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@debussy0 As with our public elementary and secondary schools, it's not the educators that are sucking up money for no tangible benefit, it's the administrators - presidents and principals, directors and departmental coordinators. More oversight, more managers, more tests, more quotas for teachers and professors to meet, fewer results.

My Dad used to answer only to his department chair and the dean of the medical school, both of whom maintained full academic workloads, and the department had one secretary to share. Now there's a department chair, a director of research and 4 or so associate directors, eight or so associate deans, two vice deans, an executive vice dean, and the dean. The number of students per cohort has maybe tripled in that time, but the number of faculty has only doubled (Many of the new administrators are practitioners or researchers, but they don't do much practice, research, or teaching anymore).

Similarly, I remember when my favorite High School teacher retired -  he was social studies coordinator for the entire district and still managed to maintain a 50% teaching workload, but a new superintendent wanted to give cushy jobs to some of his buddies, so they eliminated my teacher's position while creating new jobs for the director and assistant director for social studies. You would have retired, too.

NamecNassianer
NamecNassianer like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

"Gee also increased the size of the university’s senior staff by 30%, and raised their average salaries by 63%, to $539,390 in 2011." 

With unemployment and under-employment as it is, the above is a travesty.  Corporate greed, you have a soul mate in institutional greed.

JoMarch
JoMarch

@NamecNassianer I agree with you.  Please also keep in mind that these are Ohio State Employees- which the state budget being hit hard was laying off people across the board.  During this time as well Ohio Teacher's Unions had to campaign to keep their bargaining rights.  The State vilified teachers, yet handed more money over to a an admin who was raking in the State dollars.