Yudof’s joke is on us; we’re not amused

Former University of California President Mark Yudof continued to earn his presidential salary for a year after stepping down to teach.
Former University of California President Mark Yudof continued to earn his presidential salary for a year after stepping down to teach. The Associated Press

“The stories of my compensation are greatly exaggerated,” former University of California President Mark Yudof famously joked during the recession, after the New York Times asked whether his salary was really $828,000 a year.

It was only $600,000, he said. Haha. Actually less, since he had just given himself a 10 percent pay cut. So only $540,000, not counting the $10,000-a-month housing allowance. Haha.

Six years later, Californians are still forgetting to laugh.

After months of hearing UC complain about its inability to make ends meet without more state funds or a tuition increase, it turns out that for a year after Yudof stepped down to make way for Janet Napolitano, the UC was still paying his old salary, which had crept back up to $591,000.

The reason? High-ranking administrators “customarily” get a year’s “sabbatical” pay when they step down to return to teaching. That’s what UC officials told The Sacramento Bee’s Phillip Reese, who noticed Yudof’s windfall when UC publicly released its 2014 payroll last week.

That’s quite a “custom,” and nice work, if you can get it. The sabbatical deal was written into Yudof’s original appointment by the UC regents, and Napolitano, whose own pay is $570,000, couldn’t have done much about it.

But it’s funny how UC didn’t think to mention Yudof’s sweet deal during this year’s legislative hearings into its budget, while its officials were claiming to have cut administrative fat to the bone. The system didn’t get out from under his president-sized salary until the middle of 2014, and even when his sabbatical was up, Yudof’s soft landing continued.

Co-teaching a single class for two semesters at UC Berkeley’s law school scored him a healthy $315,000 salary until June of this year, when he stopped teaching. A comedown, but way more than most UC professors.

Robert Hass, the former U.S. poet laureate and poetry professor, made only $235,217 in UC pay in 2014. Robert Reich, the former U.S. secretary of labor and public policy professor, made only $263,592. And the many assistant professors and adjuncts and lecturers on whom the system relies earn far, far less. And of course, now that Yudof is retired, he can enjoy his UC pension. Sweet.

Here’s the thing: It’s an open secret that UC’s pay is generous compared to other state workers. The number of UC employees earning $200,000 or more increased to 6,770 in 2014, a 14 percent jump from 2013. Many are physicians at UC hospitals. But many others are mid-level administrators. Keep in mind that $200,000 a year is more than Gov. Jerry Brown’s paycheck.

Californians treasure their university system, and a few hundred grand won’t make or break the UC budget. But taxpayers are over these big administrative salaries.

Last month, it was UC Davis replacing a $174,000 vice provost with a $250,000 “chief global strategist.” This month, it’s Yudof. And by the way, Napolitano’s appointment includes the same sabbatical deal.

She should un-include it. No joking. It’s time for some new customs over there.