The University of Illinois has a new President.

Again.

And both the University of Illinois and the State of Illinois are in dire financial straits.

Still.

Obviously, the solution to some of the problems being faced is to offer the outgoing University President a high-paying, tenured faculty position at the same University. (Sadly, that is not a joke. In fact, it’s kind of a bad habit around these parts.)

And so, it is business as usual in academia, with a hint of Illinois’ familiar brand of backroom dealing tossed in for kicks.

Seeing as we’re knee-deep in the twenty-first century, though, it’s got to be time for something different. It’s time for an approach that reflects the particulars of our present reality — one of protests, lo-fat lattes, financial strife, the 99%, free wi-fi, and unemployment. 

That is where this proposal begins.

Recently resigned University President Hogan, subject of the faculty’s boisterous “no confidence” vote and general disdain, was earning an annual salary of $651,000. That’s a might hefty chunk of change, especially when you consider the especially reasonable cost of living in our fair twin cities.

(Come to think of it, with that kind of scratch, you kind of wonder why Ol’ Mikey wasn’t spending his Friday nights in Downtown Champaign or Urbana, buying rounds for the whole bar, supporting local business, maybe even buying himself a little community support in the form of rum drinks and draft beers. But I digress...)

It may not be as exorbitant a figure as what athletes and actors make, but to Average Joe and the Chambana Citizenry (which you are free to take and use as a band name) it’s more money than most of us would know what to do with. And, given the track record, a lot more than what was deserved.

So what about those regular folks? Certainly many of them could do no worse. Which is precisely why the University should hire one.

Wait, what?

Yes, part of this proposal is to hire an experienced middle manager (or similar professional) — you know, the people who do all the work that the upper executives take credit for — who is out of work or is currently working outside of their field. They will be offered a year-to-year renewable contract, with a salary not to exceed $150,000 annually. They will be reviewed each year and, if their performance is up to par, they will be renewed. And, while this might be a bit of a “roll of the dice,” I’d wager that there are plenty of qualified applicants who could do a better job (or at least stir less controversy) than the University’s recent leadership.

Furthermore, while the compensation is a lot more reasonable, the ability to add the phrase “President — University of Illinois” to one’s resume packs a unique value that can’t be monetized. At least, not until that individual is offered a more lucrative position elsewhere.

“But, the duties of the office of University President are so many,” you say. “How can one person who is paid such a humble salary be expected to put the best foot forward for the entire University?”

Very well then — A variation to the proposal is in order.

Instead of one University President, we hire anywhere from three to five individuals meeting roughly the same criteria as above, but earning no more than $75,000 each annually.

“Three presidents?!? Surely you’re not serious.”

I most certainly am.

If one individual is incapable of handling all of the duties with a mere six-figure salary, then let’s start splitting up those duties.

One co-president would be responsible for the ceremonial duties. He or she would look great on camera and have a dynamite smile. This person would handle the glad handing, ribbon cutting, photo ops, etc.

But never public speaking. That would be the duty of a second co-president. That individual would be responsible for press conferences, speeches, letters, announcements, and general public relations functions — offering pretty words to paint a pretty picture of the University.

A third co-president would be entrenched in the board rooms. This would be the designated “meeting president.” A thankless job, but one where the real work happens. Hammering out details, handling the messy “sausage making” business of the University. Unburdened by the nonsense of public appearances and fund raising and what not, this individual can efficiently and effectively focus on the business of ensuring that the University keeps chugging along.

Additional co-presidents are, of course, optional. But let us say, for the sake of discussion, that the choice was made to have four co-presidents. At an annual salary of $75k (not bad for what could amount to part-time work), the grand total comes to $300,000 per year.

President Hogan was earning $651,000. President designate Easter will earn $450,000. Thus, on the low end, this multi-president version of the proposal saves the University $150,000 annually, and on the high end saves over $350,000 (not including any bonus or incentive moneys that have been handed out to recently resigned leaders). This does not take into consideration the University’s savings on basic life insurance, AD&D, SURS, and other costs not reflected in the basic salary figure. Thus, the amount saved is even higher than the numbers above, which are a fine start on their own.

(As an added bonus, this part of the proposal creates jobs. I’ll collect my tax breaks and adulation next week.)

But this proposal isn’t only about money. Though compensation is a large part of it, if you’re doing a job and doing it well, you should be paid well for it. More important, however, is what should happen when you aren’t doing your job well. And so, another major component of the proposal is this — if you are fired, or if you “resign” as a result of misdeeds/errors/etc., you get nothing.

Zip. Zilch. Squat. Nada.

This portion of the proposal is what I like to call “The Real World Clause” — introducing a bit of long-lost reality into these upper echelons of employment.

For the most part, anyone reading this, as well as yours truly, would be fired for being bad at our job (although I’m guessing we all know of a few examples where that’s not true). Unlike the former chancellors and presidents, though, we wouldn’t be offered a “consolation prize” of a position. We wouldn’t be offered a free year off, with pay, to consider the future and prepare for our free job (or, as is likely the case more often than not, search for a better one). We’d receive no bonus money, no partial compensation, and in many instances these days, not even a severance package.

And so it should be within the executive corridors of the University. Understand, this is not in regards to an individual leaving on good terms — this proposal is related to those situations where, in lieu of being fired, someone has resigned in disgrace or due to misconduct.

Though you might not know it from press coverage (or lack thereof), the public outcry against these “golden parachutes” is loud and frequent. Presently aimed at corrupt Wall Street entities, it could just as easily be applied to academia.

And it should. With the corporate model being applied to universities as though they were Fortune 500s, academia has brought this backlash upon itself.

There are many people I’ve spoken with who have elaborated on a theory that academia will represent the next bubble — decades of inflated salaries and bad investments, passed on in the form of regular and significant tuition increases, year after year. A system built on eating itself, until it collapses under its own weight.

Is it possible? It may well be, particularly if things continue down this path. But this proposal is not about the education side of academia, the pay of professors, etc. That debate is playing itself out in a variety of venues and ways.

This proposal is about simple business practices. It is about not paying someone for goods or services that are not delivered, or that prove detrimental to the organization. The only relationship to the educational side of the university business is the idea that someone who was a bad administrator should not be rewarded with a tenured six-figure professorship, extending that bad leadership into the classroom. That would be akin to, as an example, running an entire property rental business into insolvency, then being offered a job as a property manager at another company from which you couldn’t be fired.

Compensation for a job well done is expected and accepted. Penalties and dismissal for poor performance, egregious errors, and/or misconduct should be the norm. As of right now, it is not.