The Price of Everything, the Value of Nothing

By Becky O’Malley
Wednesday March 11, 2009 - 07:24:00 PM

“As UC president, Yudof will receive a compensation package valued at $828,000 in the 2008-09 year, compared to a current package estimated at $790,000 at the University of Texas. (These figures do not include standard retirement plan funding for future retirement benefits for university employees at both institutions.)" 

—University of California press release,  

April 16, 2008 


“This new agreement includes wages increases over five years of 4 percent, 3 percent, 3 percent, 3 percent, and 3 percent. For the first time, UC service workers will have a state wide minimum wage that reaches $14.00/hour by the end of the contract.”  

—Press release, AFSCME Local 3299,  

Feb. 13, 2009 


“Birgeneau said that the university administration rejected the possibility of top officials at the Berkeley campus taking a salary cut.  

‘Obviously this is one of the things that we have considered,’ he said. ‘Further reductions of senior administrators’ salaries would damage our ability to attract outstanding people.’” 

—Berkeley Daily Planet online article on UC Berkeley tuition increases and faculty cuts,  

March 11, 2009 


“True, a salary cap on Wall Street may limit the talent pool, but, on the other hand, if they get any more talented we’ll all be broke.” 

—Cocktail party guest in a New Yorker cartoon, March 2, 2009. 


Has anyone on Wall Street or in the UC system (looking more and more like the Wall Street farm team all the time) ever considered the possibility that too many “outstanding” and “talented” people have already jumped aboard their gravy train? Revelations in the last couple of years about double-dipping and other kinds of dubious dealings by top UC administrators suggest that the university’s management hasn’t exactly been doing a terrific job. Meanwhile, higher education becomes less and less affordable for children from working- and middle-class families, and an impossible dream for many talented young people without supportive parents.  

It’s true that UC’s 30-1 ratio between the top and bottom jobs is not as shocking as the 500-1 ratio common in financial corporations and even in some failing U.S. manufacturing companies. But just as a comparison, President Yudof’s $800K-plus package, including perks, is more than the whole Berkeley Daily Planet annual budget, which pays for all or part of the living expenses of some 10 or 15 hard workers, depending on how you count. Some of them even have children that they’re hoping to send to college some day. 

UC’s press release also tiptoes around the question of what’s happening to faculty hiring. Stripped of the administrative newspeak, they’re not going to offer many tenure-track jobs to entry-level Ph.D.s, (probably none at all in the humanities) and they’ll rely even more heavily on contract faculty (no tenure or even modest job security) and graduate student instructors (formerly known as teaching assistants). What this means is that the deal for undergraduates is getting worse—again. And a permanent class of wandering scholars now exists in the academic world, people who aren’t really paid enough to settle down and raise families. If they aren’t lucky enough to have working spouses, they’d be better off being celibate as Oxford dons used to be. 

It’s no better in the world of journalism, of course. The Chronicle’s new deal with its weak union means, in real world terms, that my friend who’s a crackerjack senior reporter, 60ish, with college-age kids, will be laid off with no future job prospects from his cushy job, which pays all of $60k a year. Is a UC administrator more than 14 times more valuable to society than an experienced reporter at the last metropolitan paper in a major city? He’s a business reporter, too, supposedly the watchdog who’ll protect us from the shenigans of the malefactors of great wealth who dominate the U.S. economy, and now he’s being muzzled.  

Which brings us to the point of acknowledging the changes in today’s masthead. Michael Howerton, who’s been with the Planet as long as the current owners, has resigned as managing editor to accept a job with the San Francisco Examiner. He’s been a pleasure to work with, we regret his loss and we’ll miss him, but in truth it’s a good decision for him. He’s supporting a family, with a spouse who hopes for an academic career. The Examiner is part of a larger organization that seems financially stable and offers an upward career path. Very few new jobs are on offer in journalism—it’s a compliment to the Planet that our employees are being recruited for one of them. 

We’re very lucky that Justin De Freitas, our award-winning cartoonist, writer and editor, is taking over the ME’s job. Justin has drawn cartoons for the paper since we started publishing in 2003 and has served as the Planet’s Associate Managing Editor for nearly as long. We’re still hoping to avoid layoffs, but we won’t be adding another associate editor, so he’ll inevitably have a good bit more work to do, as will the rest of us. Oh well, she said, that’s why we make the big money.  

Some have been inquiring about how our new “sustainable journalism” quest is doing. It’s too soon to tell, but we’ve had heartwarming responses from a couple of hundred enthusiastic readers, and received contributions in the low thousands of dollars. Our blank front page got the attention of various commentators and even a “news at 11” item on KGO-TV, and maybe something will come of it. We certainly hope so.