There ARE second acts for former top educators: Joseph Westphal and others

As is painfully familiar to most ordinary faculty and staff at American colleges and universities, top administrators who, fairly or unfairly, are forced out of their well-paid positions invariably find comparable if not superior positions elsewhere. Where a faculty member in especially the humanities or social sciences who is denied reappointment–or worse, denied tenure–might never get another regular position, this rarely occurs for deans, vice presidents, provosts, and presidents if those ousted big shots want to pursue their administrative careers. There are not just informal networks of fellow administrators to call upon for aid but, not surprisingly, consultants who specialize in this kind of academic “outplacement.”

And more often than not, those who do wish to remain somewhere on campus are given one or more years of paid leave at either their existing administrative salary or at a modestly reduced but still high salary. At the University of Maine, the two highest paid professors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), to the best of my knowledge, are Presidential Professors and are both former College Deans not reappointed– with the  hearty approval of nearly all of the professors and staff who had to work under them. (My apologies if one or two other CLAS professors do earn more than those two former deans.)

To be sure, those who, as administrators, repeatedly advocated for the glory of teaching rarely  rush back to the classroom but instead commonly take a year or two to “prepare” for their return. In the University of Maine System, these “administrative leaves” usually take the form of make-work positions that require very little work. The most recent example was the  $363,028 wasted on an unneeded  39-page report by ousted University of Southern Maine President Selma Botman to fulfill  the final year of her five-year contract. As is well known, the University of Maine System had already entered into an agreement with a London-based company to recruit more international students and so didn’t need Dr. Botman’s expensive report–prepared, let me add, with a research assistant paid more than many System regular faculty earn annually.

These repeated wastes of precious dollars do not appear to cause any concern among the powers that be either in Maine public higher education or among Maine’s legislators. Faculty and professional and classified staff negotiate endlessly for new contracts that, at most, would provide 1% or 2% salary increases that, at least in part, would likely be undermined by increased healthcare payments out of salaries. By contrast, those handsome allocations for the power elite are presumably categorized as “the cost of doing {educational] business.”

All of these comments were prompted by the recent small item in the Bangor Daily News  that Joseph Westphal had been nominated by President Obama to become the next U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Westphal served as Chancellor of the University of Maine System from 2002 till 2006 but, after being forced to resign–BIG SURPRISE!–became a University of Maine professor of political science at (only) $208,000 per year. For 2007 he was the state’s highest paid employee.

In fairness, Dr. Westphal had some excellent ideas about consolidating or at least downsizing some of the smaller System campuses but inevitably ran into relentless opposition from the affected communities and their political and business leaders. His style of top-down administration didn’t work in Maine. Meanwhile his lavish expenditures for holiday and other parties for the power elite, his costly Maine coastal retreats for Trustees and others to get away from the then dull Bangor scene, and his repeated trips to Paris and southern France (always in first-class hotels) to sign faculty exchanges that rarely if ever panned out, became too much for those who had hired him. They apparently had some vague notion that he’d get tons of federal dollars into Maine public higher education. Whatever federal funds have come into the Orono and other campuses since 2002 have instead been the result of the tireless efforts of professors and of political and business leaders with specific plans.

Dr. Westphal, of course, had the last laugh–just like Selma Botman, among others.  He served for a while as Provost of the New School for Social Research in New York City and in 2009 became Undersecretary of the Army, the Army’s second highest civilian post.  Obviously he is highly regarded by the Obama Administration. We wish him well in that important post.

But I still wonder about one thing: when Dr. Westphal agreed to teach a little for the Orono Political Science Dept., he wasn’t content with using an ordinary office in Stevens Hall. No, he insisted upon some new furnishings, new computer, and who knows what else for his periodic times in that office. Who Got Einstein’s Office? is the title of an entertaining book about the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. So, I ask, who got Westphal’s office?