At long last, the Times explains: For years, we’ve asked a basic question:
Where the Professor Harold Hill are the nation’s top academics?
We began to ask this question in the mid-1990s. We watched the “press corps” struggle, for two solid years, to answer a rather basic question:
Did Newt Gingrich’s Medicare plan call for “Medicare cuts,” as President Clinton was saying? Or would Gingrich’s plan simply “slow the rate at which the program would grow?”
This question turned out to be much too hard for our professional “press corps.” Night after night, pundits presented the two parties’ talking points on Crossfire.
None of our “journalists” had the smarts to straighten this question out.
Where the heck were the nation’s professors, we began to wonder. Our universities were crawling with so-called logicians. Why didn’t one of them untangle the logic of this mess in a New York Times op-ed?
Back then, the professors didn’t help. Today, the professors stare into space as “journalists” and academics take turns making gross misstatements about the standing of American students on international and domestic tests.
Where are the star professors? This morning, finally, on page one, the New York Times explains! As she starts, Ariel Kaminer sketches the outline of a new feature film—Where The Professors Are:
KAMINER (6/18/13): N.Y.U. Gives Its Stars Loans for Summer HomesIf you want to know where the professors are, they seem to be off at their homes in the Hamptons, where they’re exploring “a bold new frontier for lavish university compensation.”
Follow one of Fire Island’s quaint footpaths away from the ferry dock, past modest cottages and better-appointed vacation homes, to an elegant modern beach house that extends across three lots. A composition in bold, unadorned planes, it has a perimeter of green and two separate entrances, each outfitted with the long ramps that are the local custom.
Its most interesting feature, however, is not architectural, but financial. The house, which is owned by John Sexton, the president of New York University, was bought with a $600,000 loan from an N.Y.U. foundation that eventually grew to be $1 million, according to Suffolk County land records. It is one of a number of loans that N.Y.U. has made to executives and star professors for expensive vacation homes in areas like East Hampton, Fire Island and Litchfield County, Conn., in what educational experts call a bold new frontier for lavish university compensation.
In theory, of course, there’s nothing automatically wrong with overpaying professors. In theory, overpaid professors might be inspired to heighten their public service.
But that’s where our long-standing question comes in: What have these overpaid professors done for us lately? The Times report describes bloated compensation for “star professors” at NYU. But can you name any such professor? Can you name any service these star professors have ever provided the public?
Two Sundays ago, it was a pair of Gotham professors who made a groaningly bogus statement in a front-page report in the Sunday Review. Can you name the star professor from NYU who came forward to correct the manifest groaner authored by their colleagues?
No you can’t—and now we know why. The star professors were all too busy at their summer homes!
Here at THE HOWLER, we know of no group that has failed to serve as visibly as our professors. There is no Standard Misstatement so egregious that a star professor will get off his ass and challenge it in a major newspaper. Lazy, uncaring, unhelpful and dumb, our “star professors” are more likely to invent our Standard Group Nonsense than they are to correct it.
Just think Reinhart and Rogoff! To which we can now add the names Hacker and Dreifus!
In theory, there’s nothing automatically wrong with overpaying these stars. As she continues, Kaminer describes the process by which their compensation has grown at NYU
KAMINER (continuing directly): N.Y.U. has already attracted attention for the multimillion-dollar loans it extends to some top executives and professors buying homes in New York City, a practice it has defended as necessary to attract talent to one of the most expensive cities on earth...Why has Trachtenberg defended those “robust salaries?” Perhaps because his own salary stood at $3.7 million when he retired from GWU, according to the foremost authority on such practices.
Universities in similar circumstances, like Columbia and Stanford, also have helped professors and executives with home loans. Aid for vacation properties, however, is all but unheard-of in higher education, several experts in university pay packages say.
“That’s getting to be a little too sexy even for me, and I have a good sense of humor about these things,” said Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, a former president of George Washington University who has publicly defended high salaries for professors and university executives. “That is entertaining, actually. I don’t think that’s prudent. I don’t mind paying someone a robust salary, but I think you have to be able to pass a red-face test.”
In theory, there’s nothing wrong with swag like that, but what do these slackers do to earn it? Why did none of these people step forward to explain the legitimate practice of paraphrase when Candidate Gore was being paraphrased to his eventual death? Why have none of these people risen up to present the actual data about American student performance?
Why did none of these useless cash cows explain that Social Security wasn’t actually going “bankrupt” during the thirty years when the public was being aggressively conned about such matters? When will one of these double home-owners explain the massive overspending—the looting—in our American health care?
Almost surely, they never will. The Krugmans are few and far between. Today, though, we can finally say this:
The silence of the rest of the lambs can finally be explained. Where The Professors Are, the film, will feature some long winding lanes.