Several months ago, I did a post to this blog on the controversy surrounding the announcement that Geoff Chatas, the CFO of Ohio State University, would be resigning from that position to take a position with the corporate conglomerate with which he had recently negotiated a long-term and lucrative contract to manage the university’s parking facilities—specifically, a 50-year, $483 million deal. [See: https://academeblog.org/2015/04/26/higher-eds-version-of-the-revolving-door/.]
Chatas’ announcement immediately provoked fairly widespread concerns about the fairly obvious conflict of interest, but Chatas himself attempted to dismiss those concerns simply by explaining that his new corporate position would not in any way involve the university’s parking facilities. When that explanation did not defuse the situation, Chatas announced that he had decided, after all, to remain with the university.
What follows are excerpts from an article written by Amanda Etchison for the university’s student newspaper, The Lantern:
“Chatas’ decision was announced by the university in a press release on Thursday.
“’Ohio State students deserve the best education, but we can’t provide that education on the back of student debt,” Chatas said in a released statement. “I want to find creative solutions to the challenges facing higher education.’
“Chatas’ salary under the new contract will remain the same “with no increase in compensation,” the Thursday release said. His base salary is $683,153. . . .
“Chatas has served as OSU’s CFO for five years, and he has received praise from Ohio Gov. John Kasich for his efforts to lower operating costs at the university by entering into private contracts with companies like Nike, CocaCola, Huntington, and QIC.
“Earlier this year, Chatas was appointed by Kasich to serve as chairman of the Ohio Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency in Higher Education, a group made up of nine members who have been asked to examine ways for Ohio’s public colleges and universities to hold down costs.”
It may very well be the case that the “private contracts” that Chatas has negotiated have been as profitable for the university as for its “corporate partners” and even that those profits have somehow not come at further expense to the students, faculty, and staff at the university.
But this item, which reads as if it has been derived largely from the university’s press release on the matter, seems as tone deaf as Chatas himself had been almost blithely dismissive of the very obvious conflict of interest in his assuming a highly compensated position with a corporate conglomerate with which he had just negotiated a nearly half-billion-dollar deal. Perhaps the student reporter juxtaposed selected details to heighten their ironic effect, but I would not be surprised if this article is just further evidence of how conditioned we have all become to the rhetoric and realities—the off-handed excesses–of corporatization.
Putting aside the open question about how—at whose cost—the mutually profitable contracts to privatize university services generate those profits, there are other fairly obvious things that challenge credulity.
We are asked to accept that one of the most highly compensated administrators at the largest university in the nation, who has just declined a lucrative corporate position because of a public outcry over conflict of interest, is focused above all else on reducing student debt.
We are asked to believe that, even though the contracts to privatize university services involve truly staggering amounts of money, the main purpose of privatization is to increase “affordability and efficiency.”
In sum, we are asked to believe that costs to students are being cut or even contained even as they continue to rise and, in effect, that the concurrent increases in corporatization and in student costs are simply coincidental, if not misleading.