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Posts published in “Day: October 8, 2006”

Bleeding the media

Used to be that reporters and editors in the news media tended to stay in those jobs; they had picked a field and stayed in it. For various reasons, which we'll enter into one of these days, the news media is less and less a place where very many people can build a career ... as journalists, at least.

Consider this from Dave Frazier's Boise Guardian blog, about one of the few Idaho broadcast journalists to actually break ground in public affairs reporting in recent years:

Guv candidate Butch Otter won’t have to worry about KBCI-TV 2 reporter Jon Hanian doing any expose’ stories about him. Taking a lesson from George Bush, Otter made a preemptive strike: He hired Hanion away from the news game.

Otter already had former Associated Press reporter Mark Warbis on the payroll. If he gets Dan Popkey he will be untouchable.

Spokesman for Grant

The Spokane Spokesman-Review has been one of the less easily predictable endorsers in recent elections. Its endorsement in Idaho's 1st congressional district race, though, comes as little surprise.

Associate Editor Dave Oliveria, an editorial writer for the paper who lives in Kootenai County - and therefore has a key role on Idaho endorsements - is a self-described conservative but has made clear for some time in the Huckleberries blog his concerns about Republican House nominee Bill Sali. He was one of the questioners at the Coeur d'Alene debate between Sali and Democrat Larry Grant, where both candidates put on their best face. But his view, evidently, is unchanged.

From the editorial (linked to here at the Grant site, since the Spokesman is behind a pay wall): "With only two seats in the House, Idaho can't afford to send another conservative flamethrower to Congress. Not only will Grant be in a good position to help Idaho if the Democrats regain the House, but he would work better with Republicans than Sali would if they don't."

A scam, not a marketplace

Quite the con some categories of professionals have going these days: Pay anything less than obscene amounts of money to attract "top talent," or your institution will crash to the ground. CEOs of corporations. Coaches of football teams. Presidents of universities.

Washington State UniversityFrom Peter Callaghan's column in today's Tacoma News Tribune:

But last week WSU echoed the words that UW leaders had voiced just 18 months ago. If Cougar Nation wants a world-class leader, it will have to pay well above the half-million-dollar pay package [retiring President V. Lane] Rawlins will leave behind.

“I think that’s the market for the type of president we’ll be looking for, and the top presidents in the country,” WSU regent Rafael Stone told The Spokesman-Review in Spokane.
It’s an unquestioned truth in the boardrooms of the nation’s biggest universities that it is not only OK to pay presidents up to 10 times what they’d pay a full professor, it is necessary. It is not only OK to coax the presidents of other schools to leave their jobs, it is the first rule of how the game is played. It is not only OK to provide your president with pay and benefits packages in the half-million to million-dollar range, it is the only way to keep him or her from being raided by other schools.

The language resembles nothing so much as the obscene “market” for college coaches, where a contract is good only until a better one comes along.

What makes more sense? Pay a president something like 100K - providing a little more assurance that your winning candidate will be applying to do a job at a university, not simply to enrich himself.

A couple of truths that should be apparently to anyone as presumably well-educated as a member of a university governing board should be:

1. The choice of top executive at any institution - with the exception of the founder - is only one factor in its success or failure, and ararely decisive. Pick a good one, sure: But perfectly good talent usually can be found locally, often inside the institution. (Hey: There's a good way to build some real institutional loyalty.) But nationwide searches and big bucks salaries also make no sense for another reason.

2. You never, never, know what they're going to be like until they start work, track record and earnest sentiments be damned. We think we put presidents of the United States through a vetting process, but the George W. Bush who in 2000 pledged to reduce the size and scope of government and avoid nation-building certainly isn't what we got after he entered the White House. Look around the country and you will see universities headed by high-priced presidents, picked after extensive national searches. And you will find that some of them are good, some are fair, and some are bad. If you filled the jobs by lottery, you likely wouldn't do a lot worse: Most job categories, including those filled on impulse, are occupied by job holders who are variously good, fair and poor.

More locally, Callaghan points out that while University of Washington President Mark Emmert pulls in $602,000 a year, ranking him eighth nationally for highest university president salary, most institutions comparable to UW or WSU pay considerably less.

It's enough to justify some student protests: How about spending some of those big buck on our education, not the enrichment of one guy in one office?