UW President Michael Young just got a raise to $570,000 . But, under his hiring agreement, he would receive an additional million in “deferred compensation” if he stays through 2016.
Presumably, all this compensation is based on Young’s “fitness” to serve the lofty role as a University President. In creating that contract, the Board of Regents inherently expressed a belief that Young has the temperament, wisdom, and values to lead the state’s premier institution of higher learning—to serve as the state’s intellectual commander-in-chief, if you will.
But given his recent public statement, it’s a façade. Rather than serving as a thoughtful steward of our state’s intellectual life, he has succumb to FOX News style truth-is-whatever-makes-me-feel-redeemed punditry.
And that makes him an embezzler—after millions of our tax dollars.
I know, I know, that doesn’t sound like he is an embezzler in the classic sense. I mean, it’s not like he is actually stealing money he isn’t entitled to. And, granted, he really does have a contract for his salary. But hear me out….
You see, I used to believe that accuracy and truthfulness in describing things like “embezzler” were an important part of being a writer, thinker, and all-around good citizen. But, I’ve recently learned that intellectual honesty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve learned that sometimes it is okay to be incendiary to get people’s attention.
Where did I learn how to avoid being encumbered by truth? Why…from President Young, himself!
Last week, Young claimed that Washington State’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) plan is “a strange program—a Ponzi scheme, essentially.” (ST link).
The statement is entirely inaccurate. GET is nothing at all like a Ponzi scheme. Calling it a Ponzi scheme defies the actual definition of a Ponzi scheme.
Such a statement coming from the U.W. President is absolutely stunning! Is it now okay for a University President to, essentially, lie to the citizens of the state. Is it moral for Young to belittle 150,000 families by suggesting they have invested in “vaporware” for their children that is really just the opposite (i.e. guaranteed)? Is it right for a University President to besmirch a functioning program that is the only sure financial path to a college education for many middle class Washington families?
Through a spokesperson we learn that Young’s use of “Ponzi scheme” is “a handy quip to explain what he perceives as the financial fragility of the GET program.”
The Seattle Times’ columnist Danny Westneat takes Young to task over his misleading words:
“No, GET is not like a Ponzi scheme, not at all,” said state Treasurer Jim McIntire, when I asked him about Young’s comment. “I would hope that what was going on here is that he misspoke.”
GET, or Guaranteed Education Tuition, is factually not like a Ponzi scheme, except in the most superficial ways. For starters, it’s an open book. Last month it got an “A” risk rating from the state actuary. It has $2.5 billion invested, in federal bonds and equity funds, that last year returned a healthy 16 percent.
Westneat’s “most superficial way” is, essentially, that there is investment and, therefore, risk—you know, like any insurance program, any retirement plan, loans, layaway, venture capital, real estate purchases, or even just investing in a college education. They’re all fuckin Ponzi schemes because someone is taking some kind of risk. Hell…by this definition even Young invested in a Ponzi scheme when he agreed to deferred compensation, because there is some chance he will not last until 2016. Man…what a gullible bozo to fall for that old Ponzi scheme!
But to be fair, we should hear Young’s side of the story. Westneat to the rescue:
“It’s incendiary, I admit,” Young said when I called him. “But this can be a real go-along to get-along community. You have to be a little incendiary around here to get people’s attention.”
Young said the GET program, because it’s a defined-benefit plan (it pledges to pay no matter what happens to the investments), is a ticking time bomb. He compared it to Detroit going bankrupt in part due to its crippling defined-benefit pensions.
“It’s 100 percent predictable that this is going to go south,” Young said. “It might be fine now, but let’s have this conversation six years from now. It’s going to need an infusion of capital to prop it up.”
That’s not what the state actuary predicts. But I can’t say who’s right.
I see…it’s because Detroit. Nevermind that there are 20,000 cities in the U.S. and the vast majority have not been crippled by defined-benefits pensions. There is a reason that Detroit went bankrupt, and the root cause isn’t the pension obligations!
So, that’s why I can say he is an embezzler. Not because he has stolen any money. He’s fine right now but, hey, let’s have this conversation two years from now. I’m just sayin’. And, it’s okay to be “just sayin’” in an incendiary way, because I’m just trying to get people’s attention. Think of it as a handy quip to point out the fragile position that Young put himself and the University in.
Thanks to President Young, truth be damned, we can all behave like FOX News pundits!