Jack Ohman

Take me out of the ballpark: President Napolitano hits a homer...

I like money.

I'm a capitalist.

But it is difficult for me to understand why, precisely, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano should earn $570,000 (plus various bennies) to run the UC system. Generally, I think people should be well-compensated for their labors, but scale is important. 

For example, Napolitano earned about $199,000 for running the third-largest cabinet agency. That's a big operation, and I want someone who knows what they're doing in that job. If the Secretary of Transportation messes up, no terrorist suitcase nuclear weapon will detonate. Compared to a lot of CEOs, or halfway decent personal injury lawyers in San Francisco, $199,000 is a rather modest figure. In fact, it's almost minimum wage compared to what someone earns for, say, churning mortgage-backed derivatives and destroying the U.S. economy for a few years. There are fire chiefs in California who made about what Napolitano made at Homeland Security. 

Gov. Jerry Brown will earn about $174,000 starting this December. That's about three and a half times less than Napolitano will earn as UC president. It goes without saying that Brown has a bigger job than Napolitano, and, to his credit, he probably wouldn't know where to spend that kind of money anyway--or so he asserts. Shouldn't the governor be earning way more than that? He also has to supervise the California National Guard, CalPers, CalTrans, and lots of other complicated state agencies. This state has over 300,000 employees. If he were running that big of a shop in the private sector, he'd be making millions per year.

Brown recently noted that California students needed to live a bit closer to the ground. You know, this sort of thing builds character, and so on. Perhaps some character should be built in the office of the UC president as well, so they have a little more empathy for a student just getting by.

Napolitano took a $20K cut from current UC president Mark Yudof's current salary, and this was meant as a gesture of supreme frugality; I would say that was akin to a shark spitting out some spare seal whiskers.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom says Napolitano's salary is "in the ballpark." Perhaps it's in the ballpark of a major league baseball player, another comically overcompensated group (and not even close to making what their owners make). The difference between major league baseball players and being UC president is that they are out there slugging it out in the free market economy, and public servants are supposed to do it for the citizens, not for the chow line.

At the end of his career in the late 1980s, my father was the deputy chief for research in the U.S. Forest Service. That means he was the chief scientist and supervised all the labs and experiment stations in the country. Just before his retirement, he made $74,500. Let's double that salary for cost of living now and call it $150,000, which I don't think federal civil servants are quite making at the top yet. He was in charge of a $125 million dollar budget. I am certain that figure is exponentially greater now. Was he underpaid? Yeah, he was. Did he complain about it? Not that I heard.

Secretary Napolitano's supervisor, President Barack Obama (in charge of U.S. military, executive agencies, and Joe Biden - a huge job) earns $400,000 per year. Not enough, but he gets a lot of perks, like being able to launch drone strikes against political cartoonists, if he wanted. I hope Napolitano doesn't retain that capability as the new UC president.

Watch out, faculty senate.

There is an apocryphal story about Babe Ruth, another highly compensated baseball player. A reporter supposedly asked him if he was worth his then-astronomical salary of $100,000, which was more than President Herbert Hoover made. Ruth replied, "Yeah, I had a better year than he did."

Too bad Ruth isn't alive. 

He'd make a lot more as UC president.