All the President’s Cash

There is no doubt that, given the state of the economy, budget cuts were, and will continue to be, a necessity. And I have confidence that President John Hennessy, Provost John Etchemendy, and all of the budget-reviewing committees have made decisions that are in the best interest of Stanford as a whole. After all, each of us has our own idea of what’s important and what we cannot believe gets funding in the first place.

So after months of deliberation, review, and meeting with students waiting for free pizza at town halls, the university unveiled the first incarnation of a new recession-based budget. Fifteen percent cuts for every department on campus, salary and hiring freezes, and 350 staff layoffs. As President Hennessy said, in addressing the Academic Council on April 30, 2009, we need to find ways to “adjust the budget, utilize resources more efficiently and eliminate waste.”

Except that they missed a spot. The administration seemingly forgot one area where cuts could have, and should have been made—if the university really wanted to eliminate waste and conserve our financial resources, they would cut significantly from the salaries of President John Hennessy and head football coach Jim Harbaugh.

Back in December, the Stanford Daily ran a headline that read: “President, provost, deans ax own salaries.” Amidst the fact that most of the axing described in the article would be unrelated cuts to the general funds budget—the one that funds pretty much everything outside of the classroom—the article noted that President Hennessy would immediately cut his salary by 10 percent. This seemed like a noble gesture, until you read that Hennessy’s salary, as of 2006, was $701,501.

Again, given all of the work that Hennessy does—he is one of the major reasons that Stanford receives more private donation funds than any other university, allowing us to have something like the general funds budget to make cuts from—maybe he deserves that salary. After all, it’s nowhere near the highest salary of a university president in the country.

But let’s not forget—Hennessy is a multi-millionaire, if not billionaire, from his role in numerous successful tech companies in Silicon Valley. In fact, according to Forbes, he is currently Chairman of the Board at Atheros Communication—which netted him $139,678 in 2008; on the board of directors at Cisco Systems—which netted him $336,891 in 2008; and on the board of directors at Google—which netted him $196, 285 in 2008. Added together, in 2008, Hennessy brought in $672,854—essentially the equivalent of his Stanford salary, in addition to the Stanford salary. So in essence, Hennessy makes two salaries per year, each to the tune of almost $700K.

If Hennessy really cared about Stanford the way he proclaims in all of his public addresses, he would abstain from more than 10% of his salary. Now I know that everyone on a college campus freaks out when they hear the word ‘abstain,’ but let’s think of what we could do with $631,351—Hennessy’s salary after the voluntary 10% reduction—if he declined his salary for one year. That money could pay for: the hiring of 5 new associate professors (the university cancelled 49 faculty searches in the budget cuts); 84 new sections of Drama 103, the extremely popular improvisation class that was all-but-obliterated in the budget cuts (just three sections of these 84 should be plenty to meet the demand and popularity of the class); 21 staff positions at the 1A1 level (maybe appease the angry pro-community center demographic); or, the full tuition for 17.5 students (not including room and board, but instead of tuition you could pay for full room and board for 55 students).

But Hennessy’s original salary of over $700,000 wasn’t even the highest salary of a university employee. That honor would go to football coach Jim Harbaugh, who currently makes approximately $750,000 per year and recently signed a huge three-year extension that would pay him $1.25 million per year. Luckily, it appears the Board of Trustees acted rationally and nixed this contract in light of the athletic department’s massive budget shortfall that may force it to cut “lesser” sports like fencing.

I know alumni enjoy having a football team that proves we’re not Ivy League, but is the head coach really four times more valuable than a tenured professor? Stanford’s professors are the second highest-paid in the country, and they still make, on average, one quarter of what Harbaugh brings in each year.

And in related news, Jon Wilner of the Mercury News reports that John Arrillaga just built Coach Harbaugh a $70,000 personal bathroom that Harbaugh wanted—ironic, considering that Arrillaga’s namesake recreation center on campus was built without bathrooms and still has no locker rooms. And let’s not forget that this $70,000 donation could be used to pay for 2.5 entry-level staff positions, perhaps 2.5 of the 20 that were recently cut from the athletic department.

These hundreds of thousands of dollars are peanuts compared to the overall billions of dollars lost. But when it comes to restoring jobs, helping students pay for school, and allowing more classes to be taught, this money could make a huge difference.

If we need to, as President Hennessy said, “utilize resources more efficiently and eliminate waste” with these budget cuts, the president’s and football coach’s paycheck might be just the place to start.

And if this idea makes them want to vomit, I know where they can find a new bathroom.

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