Monday, January 03, 2011

Some Call it "Tyranny" - Top Leaders of University of California (Including Leaders of Academic Medicine) Demand Bigger Pensions for Themselves

The state of California, and its flagship university system, the University of California, have been under extreme financial pressure lately. 

The 36 Executives' Demands

However, that apparently has not decreased the University's hired managers' and executives' sense of entitlement.  They are threatening to sue if their pensions are not increased.  As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle,
Three dozen of the University of California's highest-paid executives are threatening to sue unless UC agrees to spend tens of millions of dollars to dramatically increase retirement benefits for employees earning more than $245,000.

'We believe it is the University's legal, moral and ethical obligation' to increase the benefits, the executives wrote the Board of Regents in a Dec. 9 letter and position paper obtained by The Chronicle.

'Failure to do so will likely result in a costly and unsuccessful legal confrontation,' they wrote, using capital letters to emphasize that they were writing 'URGENTLY.'

Their demand comes as UC is trying to eliminate a vast, $21.6 billion unfunded pension obligation by reducing benefits for future employees, raising the retirement age, requiring employees to pay more into UC's pension fund and boosting tuition.

The fatter executive retirement benefits the employees are seeking would add $5.5 million a year to the pension liability, UC has estimated, plus $51 million more to make the changes retroactive to 2007, as the executives are demanding.

The executives fashioned their demand as a direct challenge to UC President Mark Yudof, who opposes the increase.

'Forcing resolution in the courts will put 200 of the University's most senior, most visible current and former executives and faculty leaders in public contention with the President and the Board,' they wrote.

Background to the Case
Here is the relevant background:
The roots of the pension dispute go back to 1999, five years after the IRS limited how much compensation could be included in retirement package calculations. But even after the IRS granted UC's waiver in 2007, nothing changed.

University executives were having troubles of their own that year.

President Robert Dynes resigned in 2007 after it was discovered that UC was awarding secret bonuses, perks and extra pay to executives. State auditors also found that UC's compensation practices were riddled with errors and policy violations.

UC officials also had become aware of another big problem: UC's pension obligations were about to outstrip its ability to pay retirees. Neither UC nor its employees had paid into the fund since 1990.

It took until this year for UC to act. In September, a retirement task force offered Yudof several options for closing the $21.6 billion gap - and one to widen it: increasing executive pensions.
Health Care Executives Included

Note that in addition to a bunch of finance officers and portfolio and asset managers, the demanding executives included quite a few leaders of the medical schools, and academic medical centers, including:
UC System's Central Office
Dr. Jack Stobo, senior vice president, health services and affairs

Dr. Sam Hawgood, vice chancellor and dean, School of Medicine
Ken Jones, chief operating officer, medical center
Mark Laret, CEO, medical center
Larry Lotenero chief information officer, medical center
John Plotts, senior vice chancellor

UC Davis
William McGowan, CFO, health system
Dr. Claire Pomeroy, CEO health system, vice chancellor/dean, School of Medicine
Ann Madden Rice, CEO Medical Center

Dr. David Feinberg, CEO of the hospital system; associate vice chancellor
Dr. Gerald Levey, dean emeritus
Virginia McFerran, chief information officer of the health system
Amir Dan Rubin, chief operating officer of the hospital system
Dr. J. Thomas Rosenthal, chief medical officer of the hospital system; associate vice chancellor
Paul Staton, chief financial officer of the hospital system

UC San Diego
Dr. David Brenner, vice chancellor for health sciences; dean of the School of Medicine
Tom Jackiewicz, CEO, associate vice chancellor of the health system
Dr. Thomas McAfee, dean for clinical affairs

UC Irvine
Terry Belmont, CEO, Medical Center
The Outraged Reaction
The executives' demands sparked anger on campus.

Dissenting members of the task force said it would be unseemly' to expand executive pensions. Tuition had just been increased by 32 percent this fall, and the regents were poised to raise it another 8 percent for fall 2011. They also voted to shift more money into the retirement fund from employees' pockets, as low-wage workers worried about retiring into poverty.

'I think it's pretty outrageous that this group of highly compensated administrators of a public university are challenging the president and the chair of the Board of Regents, said Daniel Simmons, chairman of UC's Academic Senate and a law professor at UC Davis.

'What outrages me the most is that these 36 people are blind to the fact that this is a public entity in dire straits,' said Simmons, who also served on the retirement task force and opposed the higher pensions.

The demands prompted outrage from politicians and editorialists. A few choice samples:

- The executives are "tarnishing the university's name with greed," editorial (UCLA) Daily Bruin.

- "Very out of touch," by Governor Elect Jerry Brown; "truly living in an ivory tower...." while "people are suffering in the rest of the state and losing their homes," by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D- San Mateo (per the San Francisco Chronicle)

- "Uncaring and divisive," "undercuts public support for one of California's most treasured institutions," "sending out its own special-interest message: what's in it for me," - editorial, San Francisco Chronicle.

- "despicable threat," the California Regents (UC board of trustees) should not "claim that lavish pension may be needed to recruit good people to UC. Good people don't threaten lawsuits against a cash-strapped sate to enrich themselves." editorial, Sacramento Bee.

- Governor-Elect B4rown should issue an executive order "to eliminate any position in the University of California system paying $245,000 a year or more," (thus effectively firing all the 36 complaining executives); "free taxpayers and students alike from the tyranny of those whose main objective during any time - tough or otherwise - is to keep milking the state for every penny the can squeeze out," editorial, Manteca Bulletin.


We have posted frequently about hired managers and executives of health care organizations receiving compensation and benefits out of all proportion to their apparent performance. The case of the demanding University of California executives is just one of many. However, what is really remarkable about this case is the reaction to it. We are hearing top leaders, including many of the top leaders of the state's medical schools and academic medical centers, called uncaring, greedy, and despicable by well-known politicians and in newspaper editorials, and we are hearing calls that they be fired, en masse.

Maybe we are at a tipping point.

Of course, hired health care managers and executives are not entitled to line their own pockets while patients and their other constituencies suffer during the great recession. They are not entitled to continually drive health care costs up while they enrich themselves.

However, apathy, learned helplessness, and the anechoic effect have let them promote themselves into a de facto new aristocracy (just like the hired managers and executives of some other non-profit organizations, for-profit corporations, and especially financial service corporations have turned themselves into the rest of that aristocracy.)

If we do not reclaim health care from these new oligarchs, we will all end up not just with expensive, difficult to access, mediocre health care, but under their tyranny.


This is just the latest example of the sense of entitlement displayed by the hired managers and executives of the University of California. Outrageous pay and benefits unjustified by any measure of performance for University of California's hired managers and executives has been grist for the Health Care Renewal mill since 2005.  A few samples:
-  The ranks of those paid more than $200 K rose much faster than those paid less, while lower paid employees endured a pay freeze, and the university cut its budget.  Managers got bonuses for extra work, while faculty did not.  Managers got housing allowances, and other perks.  (November, 2005
- UC-Irvine managers were paid lavishly while presiding over debacles involving transplant services  (liver transplants, November, 2005; bone marrow transplants, January, 2006; kidney transplants, January, 2006)
- UC - San Diego Chancellor was paid $359 K plus a bonus of $248 K for supposed full time work while serving on ten for-profit corporate and non-profit boards, including directorships of for-profit health care corporations that were conflicts of interest with her role overseeing the medical school and medical center.  This was the first case of what we later called the "new species of conflicts of interest" posted on the blog.  (January, 2006)
- UC - Irvine managers got bonuses while its medical center failed an inspection (January, 2010), as did managers at other UC campuses (January, 2010).

Maybe if these older stories produced more outraged, the current situation would not have occurred.

You heard it first on Health Care Renewal

Hat tip to Prof Margaret Soltan on the University Diaries blog.


Anonymous said...

The Tea Party took its name metaphorically from the patriots who stormed the ships in Boston Harbor in protest against imperious rules.

Perhaps a metaphor from a different revolution would be more appropriate in this case. Anyone ready to storm the Bastille?

Live it or live with it said...

Oh my, Same Old Tune. Don't we all realize that education is our top priority and we have/are slipping behind? How could we possibly fire these stellar performers? Won't things just get worse?

Perhaps not. I love the idea of the bill to fire everyone making over $245K and suspending their pensions too.

Wont happen though I think. No one there has the guts to do it, although if anyone could it would be a democrat because a democrat could get away with it unscathed.

Judy B said...

Very typical - I hope that we have reached a tipping point because our very lives might depend on it!