From the many windows of her stone mansion, MIT president Susan Hockfield enjoys a commanding view of sailboats gliding along the Charles River. When Northeastern president Joseph Aoun steps outside his five-story brick town house, he finds himself just across the street from Boston Common.
Their counterparts at other private colleges reside in luxury as well, many on centuries-old estates surrounded by well-tended gardens and lawns cared for by loyal staffs. The homes, many provided by universities as part of their presidents’ compensation, are the ultimate perk in this college-rich region, but one that increasingly appears to represent a bygone era.
Now the opulence risks standing out amid frozen faculty salaries, widespread layoffs, and slashed programs. While the houses often serve an important ceremonial role and it is questionable how much money could be saved by their elimination, the very mention of them has elicited low-level grumbling on campuses and anxiety among university officials over the Globe’s request to tour them.
Scandalous! Shocking! I suppose the next revelation will be that some of those college and university presidents make more money than everyone but the football coach! (To their credit, the Globe’s readers seem to be a lot smarter–check out the first several comments on the story.)
The interiors of these homes remain a mystery even to many on their respective campuses. And when a reporter requested entry into eight of the residences, many of which do not pay property taxes to their municipalities, the doors to all but one remained resolutely closed.
Well, too bad. These are private universities, and most of these institutions purchased those homes years ago, and maintain them for the purposes of extending the presidents’ work day. Also–whose brain child was it to send out this intrepid journalist in early August to ask for admission? I’m pretty confident the Globe knows that in Boston and Cambridge, August is when everyone is in the Berkshires or Martha’s Vineyard. No wonder “MIT and Harvard reported that their presidents simply were ‘not around.'”
The one local college president who welcomed a Globe reporter into her home is Wellesley’s Kim Bottomly, who said, “I’m living here as a custodian of history. . . . I’m proud to be able to show off the first building on campus.’’ And in fact, most presidents’ homes are more like public buildings or museums than they are the sanctum sanctorum of a pampered elite. College and university presidents’ homes are used for official dinners and receptions for the college and alumni/donor fluffing events, which sounds like more after-hours work than awesome “luxury” to me. I certainly think it’s appropriate for colleges and universities to ask their presidents to share in the sacrifice extracted from the rest of us, but let’s look at other perks or their salaries.
I have no desire ever to live in such “luxury,” as the Globe would have it. It would mean yearsof having to get fully dressed before leaving my bedroom, and no more blogging on the couch in my bathrobe. (The housekeeper and chef would be nice, I have to say, and would almost make it worth it if it weren’t for all of the gladhanding and begging I’d have to do in an official residence.)
How about you? Is this the focus of your particular outrage, or do you think that universities have a lot of other fat they can trim before tossing their presidents out into the street? (For example: let’s zero-out the gratis farm teams for the NBA and the NFL that most coeducational large unis have been duped into funding. Just a suggestion, folks: make the football and men’s basketball teams hold bake sales and other fundraisers when they need new uniforms, or to put gas in the van to get them to an away game. Club sports build character and school spirit!