God Bless Benno Schmidt

by Corey Robin on April 21, 2013

I love Benno Schmidt. He’s the chair of the Board of Trustees of CUNY, where I teach, and a former president of Yale. More important, he’s a man who’s spent so much time in the business world that he’s no longer capable of leaving anything to the imagination. So you get from him a refreshingly crude form of honesty that you ordinarily don’t find in academia. Certainly not in university leaders, who are so adept at making themselves misunderstood that you’d think they were trained by apparatchiks in the former Soviet Union. Or Straussians.

Anyway, Benno was interviewed by the New York Post about his plans for CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, who’ll be retiring at the end of the year.  Long story short: Schmidt wants to make things nice for Goldstein. Even though CUNY’s faculty are badly paid, even though most of the teaching is done by adjuncts who are really badly paid—like, horribly paid (they’re treated even worse)—Benno’s got his eyes on the prize: making sure Matt has a nice sendoff and a sweet retirement.

Our union at Brooklyn College has a blog, which you should be checking out regularly, and they reproduced the Post article.  Here are some highlights:

CUNY is planning a golden parachute for Chancellor Matthew Goldstein.

“We’ll craft a special package for Matt,” Schmidt told The Post….

Goldstein, a former math professor and president of Baruch College, currently gets $490,000 a year in salary, plus a $90,000 housing allowance.

Schmidt said the post-retirement salary would be less, but the board is “going to want to be on the generous side.”

“I think he’s been underpaid as chancellor…

But Goldstein has other income. While chancellor, he has served since 2003 as a funds trustee at JPMorgan Chase & Co., which paid him $325,000 in 2011. Last December, the board overseeing mutual funds elected Goldstein its new chairman, a post that paid his predecessor $500,000 in 2011.

He is also entitled to a New York state pension.

Schmidt acknowledged that Goldstein’s post-retirement pay is likely to stir controversy among students and faculty members amid tuition hikes and budget cuts, but said private funds may subsidize the salary.

See what I mean? As crude as the day is long.

{ 31 comments }

1

P O'Neill 04.21.13 at 9:55 pm

Now, Benno was great in Husbands and Wives.

2

Corey Robin 04.21.13 at 10:14 pm

He was also great in Hannah and Her Sisters.

3

nnnnn 04.21.13 at 10:39 pm

Damn, like the millions given to the Rutgers sports officials let go for wrongdoing as the University squeezes academic programs and raises tuition.

4

marcel 04.21.13 at 10:50 pm

After he left Yale, following an unexpectedly short presidency, there were bumper stickers around New Haven, “Schmidt Happens”.

5

Ahlir 04.22.13 at 12:21 am

Being nice to Benno doesn’t mean that you like Benno or think that he did a good job. It just means that you’re being prudent and ensuring that future candidates you might approach don’t simply remember you as the people who screwed Benno (deservedly or not).

It is good to be a Benno. Benno can pride himself on a successful career. Can you say the same?

Disclosure: I have met Benno at some point many years ago, though I can’t remember the details. He may have been on a Visitors Committee at our institution. At any rate, he was really quite charming with no readily discernible character flaws, and genuinely interested in what you had to say.

6

David 04.22.13 at 2:19 am

I found this persuasive and convincing.

7

Tony Lynch 04.22.13 at 3:53 am

Ahlir, I am genuinely interested in what you have to say.

8

QS 04.22.13 at 4:00 am

There are actually people named Benno in this world? Thought Bolano made that one up.

9

Atticus Dogsbody 04.22.13 at 4:08 am

Benno can pride himself on a successful career. Can you say the same?

Nope. Donald Trump can, though.

10

Tiny Hermaphrodite, Esq. 04.22.13 at 4:19 am

QS
It is a not uncommon german name.

11

QS 04.22.13 at 4:40 am

All google got me was a forgotten saint and a line of Ikea furniture.

12

Ken 04.22.13 at 5:16 am

Benno has more money than you do. Can you say the same?

13

Zamfir 04.22.13 at 6:09 am

I got (Dutch) family named Benno. It’s a short form of Bernard. Given the amount of German immigrants it must have been a regular name in the US as well, at some point.

14

Mao Cheng Ji 04.22.13 at 7:27 am

“Benno’s got his eyes on the prize: making sure Matt has a nice sendoff and a sweet retirement.”

Okay, but why; what’s the story behind the story? Kickbacks, blackmail, nepotism? Spell it out.

15

novakant 04.22.13 at 11:08 am

I think the most famous Benno would be Benno Ohnesorg whose murder by a policeman was a catalyst for the German student movement of 1968 and everything that followed, I.e. Baader Meinhof etc.

16

MPAVictoria 04.22.13 at 1:40 pm

Shorter Ahlir: “You better give this guy tons of money, otherwise you will never be able to fill a cushy job paying a half million dollars a year.”

17

Marc 04.22.13 at 2:26 pm

@16: Or maybe he has met the guy and likes him. Schmidt has done things that I disagree with (and I was glad when he was driven out of Yale.) But I’m honestly not seeing the issue here with these particular comments. The pay for presidents is bloated, but Schmidt didn’t invent that system and the pay isn’t even high relative to peers (which is, itself, depressing…)

18

MPAVictoria 04.22.13 at 2:37 pm

Marc I hate to disagree with you but look at the first section of Ahlir’s comment.

“Being nice to Benno doesn’t mean that you like Benno or think that he did a good job. It just means that you’re being prudent and ensuring that future candidates you might approach don’t simply remember you as the people who screwed Benno (deservedly or not).”

He is basically saying we better give this guy millions of dollars or we will never be able to fill his position. Which is blatant BS.

19

cripes 04.22.13 at 2:38 pm

I just want to know why those lazy people earning minimum wage aren’t working harder like, you know, Benno and Goldstein. I mean, what’s wrong with them? Don’t they understand the market pays you what you’re worth? Clearly he’s worth more sitting home on his fat ass then ten of you busting your backs to keep the nobility in comfort. Stupid peasants.

20

Satan Mayo 04.22.13 at 3:02 pm

Okay, but why; what’s the story behind the story? Kickbacks, blackmail, nepotism? Spell it out.

It’s simply that he can’t conceive of someone leading a large organization and not being paid 7 figures per year plus large post-quitting/post-firing bonuses. Just as he can’t conceive of someone who isn’t in charge being paid more than low 5 figures per year.

21

Marc 04.22.13 at 3:19 pm

@18: Fair enough. Has there been anyone who experimented with not matching salaries with peers and seeing what happens to the candidate pool? Because I can certainly see that this would cause problems – it does on a smaller scale with salaries for non-profit employees. In that case you lose the best people when you can’t afford to match the wages that they can get from other employers.

22

Corey Robin 04.22.13 at 3:29 pm

18 and 21: I think the issue, for those of us who teach at CUNY, is that while top administrators are awfully keen on this logic of salary competitiveness when it comes to themselves, they’re supremely indifferent to it when it comes to the faculty, whether tenured or non-tenured. So while they (and apparently you) are worried as to whether Matthew Goldstein’s 1/2 million plus 300k-500k in his role as Goldman Sachs dude is comparable to the earnings of other university chancellors elsewhere — and whether Benno can find enough public and private money to sweeten the pot of Goldstein’s retirement — no one seems to care at all that CUNY adjuncts are paid roughly $3000 per course, even as they do 70% of the teaching, or that our full-timers make less than many other faculty in NY or elsewhere.

23

mpowell 04.22.13 at 4:50 pm

CR @ 22: You don’t understand how management works. You hire some clever managers. They figure out how to pay line level employees less to do more. Then they pocket the savings. That’s the system in a nutshell.

24

MPAVictoria 04.22.13 at 5:03 pm

“In that case you lose the best people when you can’t afford to match the wages that they can get from other employers.”

Define best. Seriously. In what way is Goldstein better than someone who would do the job for 300,000 a year plus a decent pension? Is he smarter? Will he work harder? Prove that he will provide a return on investment. Enlighten me Marc.

25

Mao Cheng Ji 04.22.13 at 5:27 pm

@20 “It’s simply that he can’t conceive of someone leading a large organization and not being paid 7 figures per year plus large post-quitting/post-firing bonuses.”

Pure class solidarity, then? I find it hard to believe. Probably has something to do with that JPMorgan board; the retiring guy becoming its chairman. I bet Schmidt is on course of being one of those $325K/year ‘trustees’ next year.

26

Jay Schiavone 04.22.13 at 6:10 pm

Schmidt was hired away from Yale by Chris Whittle and the two started a for-profit school system which was wildly traded on the NASDAQ around the turn of the century. I think they both got rich.
Schmidt has similarly recruited a group of administrators from prestige high schools to start-up a new for-profit school in NYC.

27

Gene O'Grady 04.22.13 at 11:37 pm

The sort of arguments in favor of high, make that absurd, management salaries referenced here are another reason why I couldn’t figure out how Brad DeLong today couldn’t accept that this isn’t your mother’s, or my father’s, capitalism.

When I moved ages ago from a very badly managed academic position to a low level position in the old AT&T I was astounded at seeing really good management for the first time in my life. Nowadays the people that could actually manage work groups at the phone companies aren’t there any more, and the ones that are there by and large can’t manage but make salaries that would have been unheard of in the good old days.

28

Ebenezer Scrooge 04.23.13 at 11:07 am

Senior managers are people too. They like to be nice to other people who have faces and personalities–the ones they work with on a day-to-day basis. Their business school training kicks in only when the workers become faceless–the people who don’t visit the executive suite.

Mitt Romney was a good case in point. Nobody from Bain had a bad word for him–he was a prince of a fellow to his subordinates. Not so much for the proles at his target companies.

29

krippendorf 04.23.13 at 12:45 pm

Benno — he’s the guy that tried to shut down Yale’s sociology department. Damn radicals, nattering on and on about structural inequalities…

30

William Timberman 04.23.13 at 1:41 pm

A brilliant summation, and not your first, either. As someone who’s accused you on occasion of not understanding that management and governance are two (almost) completely different things, I have to admit after reading this that you do indeed understand the difference at least as well as I do. Where we differ is in our take on what we do about it. (Yes, Keynes was a smart guy, smarter than Marx Trotsky, et al., but he didn’t have to knock on any doors, he was already inside the room. It makes a difference.)

Anyway In the process of arguing with a virtual Brad DeLong, I’ve also come to understand that economists have had a lot more influence on the developing politics of our post-ism era than you claim here, and that this influence been largely for the good, even with A & A and R & R taken into account. But then you know that too, I suspect, even though you’re doing your best to remain publicly modest about your profession’s accomplishments. If I have any criticism still to offer, it’s that you ought to be less despairing of the fact that politics, not economics, is still the Queen of Battles, and the Principal Limit on Our Aspirations. Anyone, in other words, can aspire to full employment. Real men want to build the New Jerusalem.

31

William Timberman 04.23.13 at 1:43 pm

Argh. The previous comment was not just posted in the wrong thread — it was posted on the wrong blog. Too many tabs open in the browser. Humble apologies to all….

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