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Davis, California

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Our money’s worth

In the middle of a troubling time, the regents of the University of California have finally selected a promising educator as the next leader of the top public university system in the world. Our officials cited Mark Yudof’s impressive record and his extraordinary vision in advancing the American higher education as the major factors behind his appointment as the UC’s new president. But with the UC’s present budget quandary, is Yudof’s $828,000 price-tag really worth it?

Yudof’s proposed compensation package is composed of an annual salary of $591,084, a pension fund of $228,000 per year, a yearly automobile allowance of $8,916 and other luxurious benefits. However, the regents pointed out that Yudof’s proposed salary is in fact lower than the median salary ($644,900) of executives of public and private universities. Yudof currently receives a compensation of $790,000 from the University of Texas as its president. In addition, this proposed salary is twice as large as President Robert Dynes’ compensation. A 2006 report by the Chronicle of Higher Education also ranks Yudof as the sixth highest paid university leader in America.

If we follow their logic, the regents are basically telling us that we should be thankful to them for proposing a lower than average salary for Yudof. But with all due respect, that reason seems illogical because they could have offered a much lower compensation than what they have already put on the table. The argument that salaries of university executives are determined by the market is simply preposterous because public universities are not intended to enrich the pockets of officials in the first place. If they aspire for higher income, the corporate arena is the right world for them to pursue.

The appointment of Yudof, a high caliber educator notable for his remarkable management experience, may be good news for the struggling University of California, which tries to deliver its promise of an affordable and quality education for all. However, with the UC’s current budget cuts, $828,000 is just too expensive.

It may be true that Yudof is the best person to replace Dynes, but our officials should realize that every penny is extremely valuable during this time of financial crisis and that spending a huge amount of money on one official further illustrates fiscal irresponsibility. Moreover, there is a high probability that such an amount would be eventually siphoned from another impending fee increase. It would be an injustice to more than 220,000 UC students to put that burden on their shoulders again.

The rationality behind Yudof’s selection and his leadership background and ability is not in doubt. What is questionable is the regents’ impulsiveness in flaunting such over-priced compensation and their failure to recognize the impact of such a monetary decision to the UC’s financial deficiency.

Although Yudof is one of the nation’s finest leaders in higher education, there is no guarantee that the $828,000 investment on his compensation would generate a propitious return for the taxpayers and the students. He will inherit an underfunded institution plagued by the issues of competitiveness, affordability, commercialization and privatization. He must find a solution to stop the rising tuition fees and fight for a sustainable funding for the UC system in order to continue the UC’s promise of accessible, affordable and top-notch education. These are the tough challenges that must be overcome by our incoming leader.

However, we cannot really speak about Yudof’s capability to lead us through this rocky terrain until he starts working for us. But this does not mean that Yudof cannot fulfill the promises of the UC. He must deliver good results because students deserve excellent performance out of his enormous compensation. We will be waiting and watching because we must get the worth of our money back.

 

REAGAN F. PARLAN welcomes your comments at rfparlan@ucdavis.edu.

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