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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Princeton's Austerity Measures: A Different View

This one is too good to resist, even if I risk violating one of the many eleventh commandments: "thou shall not be critical of a fellow Princetonian to others not in the Princeton family." That said, I have the utmost respect for the university's administration. Still, the university president's article about the university's austerity measures got me to thinking.

My wife drew my attention to the article by asking me if I had seen it. I confessed that I seldom read it (the class notes are usually the first draw, and sometimes the letters to the editor, which are a lot more tame now that you don't have crotchety old men writing about how the university was better before coeducation). I asked what was up, and she said, "well, it's kind of like save your can tabs." (She did not say Cantabs, by the way.).

The article is an expository essay on the measure the university has taken to save money. Raises for all but the lowest paid employees were eliminated ("reluctantly"), spending from the endowment was reduced, and each department was asked to reduce its budget by 7.5% over the next two years. The university also put all construction and renovation projects on hold. All sensible and understandable.

The president then went on to write about how her office received over 350 suggestions for cost savings, including many from alumni (I did not send an e-mail, but this post will suffice). Among the suggestions were cancelling the staff picnic, re-evaluating the policy of unlimited printing, sending faculty minutes electronically and setting up reunion tents so as to make them reusable. All well-intentioned, all creative, all from people who really care about the community.

And here are a few more:

1. Save your "boxtops for education" and give them to Princeton University. I don't know what percentage of your cereal purchases can be directed to Princeton, but you might as well make your contribution. So, when you think fiber, think Princeton.

2. Have the university sign up for a scrip program. Basically, the university can enroll, and it will earn 3% off all your purchases. So, for example, if you enroll and spend say $5,000 a year on food at your Super Stop 'n Shop, they'll send $150 to Princeton. Multiply this by say 5,000 alums, and you're talking real dough. Many institutions have programs like these. Why not the alma mater?

3. Auction off 5 seats in every freshman class. Let's face it, the Ivies would love to get the children of the wealthiest in the world (and it helps if they really can do the work). Now, each Ivy admits some of these very wealthy kids (and they can do the work) anyway, and I presume that they pay the normal freight (say $50,000 per year). Of course, the Ivies hope that the parents will donate big sums to worthy projects, and many do. But here's the thing -- they'd probably pay more for the admission, kind of like a seat license for their tickets to Giants games. So, get some hedge fund managers, Russian oligarchs (okay, so while they're holdings decreased in value, they're still worth more than most people on the planet), Saudi sheikhs, Silicon Valley venture capitalists, James Bond movie villains, banana republic dictators and the like and start the bidding. Of course, it would be discreet, with airtight security so as not to embarrass the kids. You have to figure that if courtside seats to Game 2 of the Lakers-Magic at the Staples Center went for about $50,000 per, the golden ticket to Princeton would go for $5 to $10 million easily. Getting between $25 and $50 million from the jump for a freshman class would help the university's cash flow immeasurably.

4. Put New York Times columnist, Nobel Laureate and economics professor Paul Krugman in a dunk tank. You'd figure that there are plenty of alums who've made the big bucks who find Krugman's unapologetic liberalism offensive enough to want to buy three chances at say $50,000. While Wall Street might have had a crash, it's still there, and there are enough money managers who'd pay for the opportunity to hit the target and dunk Krugman. You'd figure that you could get perhaps 500 alums to pay for this privilege and raise a cool $2.5 million annually (which is perhaps more than you'd raise if you tried to auction off a few lunches with the famous professor). Likewise, if you did the same with controversial ethicist Peter Singer, you'd probably be able to raise over $1 million. Forget the ability to name prizes, create awards and the like -- the carnival atmosphere is the ticket.

5. Create a major in poker and invest in a syndicate of poker playing undergraduates. Give them course credit for their exercises in probability and higher mathematics, and harvest a portion of their winnings. Figuring that you can give them disguises and send them to populate games with retirees on public pensions, you could raise another $5 or so million a year. Look, some of your undergrads make big bucks on on-line gaming anyway, so you might as well admit it and cash in. As one of my advisors once said, "they made sociology a major, and they got angry with me when I called it the science of envy." And he was pivotal in the Johnson administration.

Okay, so you get the point, times are tough everywhere, even in the Ivies, where the grounds are pristine, the buildings are well cared for, the undergrads are impressive, and the offerings are vast. It's good that all institutions are being careful with their dollars, and it's not fun when you don't get a pay raise. Everyone gets all that.

Still, if they tried some of these measures. . .


Anonymous Anonymous said...


You are in a creative recession. There has to be more to life than Princeton teapot tempests and Little League moraility plays.

Thank God for the Phillies...or readership would hit rock bottom and there'd be no cereal boxtop hoarding schlemps to save your butt.

11:26 PM  
Blogger Escort81 said...

Disagree with anon above. SportsProf is on fire. I know with near certainty that the auction of freshman spots would work.

You're such a kidder.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I know your posts are not aimed at people like me, who are completely unknown to you, but I enjoy them. Thanks.

BTW, I think you are lucky to have a daughter with a sense of humor. As she gets older, you will need one as well.

11:49 AM  
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