Robert Zimmer, Eldo Kim, And Our Elite Universities

by Eleanor Lane
File under: Fake Culture18 Dec 2013 13:42 EST

We have great news coming from one of our most respected institutions of higher learning, The University of Chicago, former stomping ground of none other than Barack Obama. Robert Zimmer, president of the University, presumably an academic by trade, a mathematician, no less, took home a paycheck of over three million dollars in 2011:

The president of the University of Chicago earned $3.4 million in 2011, making him the highest-paid private university president in the country that year, according to a survey released Sunday.

The Chronicle of Higher Education's annual study, which uses data from federal tax documents, found that Robert Zimmer was among 42 private college presidents earning more than $1 million in total compensation.

Zimmer's compensation in 2011 breaks down like this: $918,000 in base salary; $200,000 in bonus pay; $454,800 in deferred compensation to be paid at a later date; $147,452 in nontaxable benefits; and $1.6 million in other earnings, which includes $1.3 million that had been set aside for him in previous years.

So apparently the compensation structure includes 'bonus pay', presumably benchmarked on the executive's ability to market the school as the home of high profile political celebrities:

For those of you unfamiliar with the kissing rock...

And there you have it. Just remember, prospective applicants, in spite of all the media hype, the $60,000 price tag, and the pyramidal, rip-off administration, the University is still all about the highest mental pursuits.

One of the world's premier academic and research institutions, the University of Chicago has driven new ways of thinking since our 1890 founding. Today, UChicago is an intellectual destination that draws inspired scholars to our Hyde Park and international campuses, keeping UChicago at the nexus of ideas that challenge and change the world.

So says the school that gave us the incredibly absurd mental picture of the three million dollar a year mathematician. No more romantic poverty, detached struggles over coffee-stained proofs, or isolation from an uncomprehending society in that profession, no sir. If you play your cards right, work your way into administration, a career as an academic mathematician might turn out more lucrative than one in the oil industry. 

But the University still needs that image of the free spirited intellectual to inspire people, and to maintain its stature as an institution to be respected. We read about Robert Zimmer, but we imagine that such places are staffed by people like Paul Erdős...

Possessions meant little to Erdős; most of his belongings would fit in a suitcase, as dictated by his itinerant lifestyle. Awards and other earnings were generally donated to people in need and various worthy causes. He spent most of his life as a vagabond, traveling between scientific conferences and the homes of colleagues all over the world. He would typically show up at a colleague's doorstep and announce "my brain is open", staying long enough to collaborate on a few papers before moving on a few days later. In many cases, he would ask the current collaborator about whom to visit next.

A profile of two mathematicians: one can only live the way he does by pretending to foster the spirit of the other. And suffice it to say that none of this mercurial, curious spirit survives in these institutions- how could it? Robert Zimmer is the aspirational model, and we're willing to bet he wouldn't have time for Erdős if he came knocking on his door...

But if the administration consists of a bunch of fakers, what of the students at these top schools? What is left for them? We skip on over to the east coast and Harvard University, for the story of Eldo Kim...

In 2009, then-high school sophomore Eldo Kim ’16 earned first place in the state of Washington in the U.S. Institute of Peace essay contest for his composition, “Cultural Genocide: A Look into the Unknown.” On Tuesday, he was charged with threatening to set off explosives in Harvard buildings.

Kim, the Quincy House sophomore who will appear in federal court Wednesday morning in connection with Monday’s bomb scare,was described by his peers as involved on campus and engaged in his schoolwork. They were stunned, they said, to hear that he had confessed to sending an emailed bomb threat to avoid a final exam.

Kim has close ties to sites affected by the bomb threats in and around Harvard Yard, which was closed for several hours Monday morning amid building evacuations, a six-hour search by authorities, and the cancelation and rescheduling of final exams in several large courses.

He has his supporters among the Harvard student body...

Look for more of these kinds of Dostoyevskian incidents at elite schools, where you have many people of great intelligence living and working within in a structure that forbids they apply this intelligence in any meaningful way. 

Doing so would mean questioning why they are going into massive debt to a mathematician and degrees signed in his name. At least you can live off the junk you buy from a credit card company. 

And besides, maybe they really don't care, and are in it for the ideas irrespective of the cost. We all know that academics are idealists willing to suffer poverty, right?

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