Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Just one more boondoggle for California's overburdened taxpayers to fund

Mostly, I consider the SF Chronicle a rag, best used to line the rodent's cage. However, the Chronicle sometimes hits a home run, as it did with this article (part of a series) detailing how taxpayer money is being used to provide luxury homes for university executives:

University of California President Robert Dynes and his wife live in one of the East Bay's most impressive homes, a 13,239-square-foot mansion in Kensington with 10 acres of land, gorgeous Mediterranean gardens and sweeping views of the bay. An extensive staff meticulously maintains the estate at a cost of close to $300,000 a year. The best part for Dynes: like many other university presidents, he doesn't pay a cent. For all the attention paid to university salaries, some of the biggest perks at the university are noncash items, such as free housing. At UC, the system spends about $1 million a year to maintain spacious homes for Dynes and the 10 campus chancellors. "I think taxpayers would be outraged to discover the nature of this extraordinary perk," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers' Association. "We certainly do not expect a university president who has substantial responsibility to be living in a very modest home. But does it take a $10 million mansion requiring this much maintenance to attract a competent UC president?" *** Public records show that many of the chancellors already own their homes, sometimes close to campus. And at least two chancellors earned tens of thousands of dollars in extra annual income by moving into university-owned residences and renting out their own nearby homes. In financial disclosure forms, UC Davis Chancellor Vanderhoef reported he earns between $10,000 and $100,000 a year by renting out a home he owns in Davis. Similarly, UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale reported renting out his Los Angeles home and earning between $10,000 and $100,000 a year in rental income. In addition, records show hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on maintaining some of the estates -- many of which are old and need frequent maintenance. UC Riverside spent $662,397 on maintenance and renovations alone in one recent year. In addition, university records show the system spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on payroll, supplies and other expenses to maintain the president's home, known as the Blake House and built in Kensington in 1926. UC spent $294,559 on the home in fiscal 2003-2004 alone. The costs include landscaping, weekly cleaning, decorations, safety upgrades, hired help, household supplies and food and alcohol for events. The landscaping costs alone totaled more than $19,000 -- not counting money UC Berkeley's school of landscape architecture spent maintaining the gardens. The university even picked up the tab for small items, such as $75 for a teakettle and $80 for a doormat. Most of the three-story, 10-bathroom house is available for university events. But UC also spends thousands of dollars to maintain the portion of the house reserved exclusively for the Dynes -- a 4,328-square-foot area that includes four bedrooms. Records show that the university spent $30,903 in 2004 to construct a kitchenette in the upstairs quarters, even though the president has access to a private kitchen just down a flight of stairs. "I suspect this will make it in our 2005 piglet book" of examples of government waste, Coupal said. "This is the kind of stuff that shows that at some point (government leaders sometimes) lose touch with reality."
The argument the University advances to defend this type of boondoggle is that the homes are used for necessary entertaining. First question: Why is the entertaining so necessary? Nobody has articulated why an institution that should be devoted to educating young people is party central for the administration. Second question: considering that the President has an entire campus at his disposal, if entertaining is so important, why not hold events on campus? Wny do they need to be held in a private home? It's amazing how newspapers, once they get off their obsessive focus on destroying the Administration and alternately destroying or sanctifying various celebrities, turn up genuinely useful information. After all, it was this kind of publicity that revealed that UC Santa Cruz had been spending massive amounts of taxpayer money to shore up a cozy little relationship between incoming president Denice Denton and her girlfriend. Nor is this unusual:
When UC Riverside Chancellor France Cordova took the helm in 2002, UC hired her husband to fill a new administrative job that pays $81,200 a year.
Of course, the university defends itself by saying (a) the people we hired are qualified on their own terms and (b) this was the only way we could get an incredibly qualified president (some would call it bribery). As a taxpayer, though, I don't buy this. My suspicion is that, if the UC administration was genuinely accountable, as it would be in private business, it wouldn't be throwing money around with such abandon. I'd also be more amenable to this kind of profligacy with my money (a) if tuition weren't so ridiculously expensive that even these ostensibly public universities have become unaffordable for many and (b) if I had the sense that students were actually getting an excellent education. I know that I certainly didn't when I attended a premier UC campus. It was factory learning, taught by bored, incompetent, tenured professors. And, because those tenured professors only occasionally deigned to appear, it was actually taught most often by incompetent, often incomprehensible (because foreign) teaching assistants, who tried hard, but had no teaching skills. The system stank then and I don't have a sense it's any better now -- just more expensive.