Fred Thys ’80 reports for WBUR about the cost of Williams College. Fred is a knowledgeable and sympathetic alum but this story painted an incomplete picture. Perhaps later stories will flesh out the scene? In the meantime, let’s spend 10 (!) days dissecting this article! Today is Day 5.

At Williams, salary is only two-thirds of the compensation. There are health insurance and child care, and all Williams employees with children in college are entitled to $24,000 a year toward each child’s education.

First, this strikes me as somewhat confused. Total compensation is a technical tax term. Health care benefits are included. But is child care? Free coffee in the faculty lounge? I don’t think so. Corrections welcome. (Joe Thorndike ’88, please help!)

Second, a cynic will often times think of the faculty/staff of Williams as a parasite, feeding off the College, sucking as much blood from the host as possible. Recall our discussions about trimming costs 6 years ago:

I have already highlighted two faculty boondoggles (the Sabbatical Grant Program and the Professional Development Fund) that should be ended, but I don’t get the sense that there are big dollar savings here.

I think that the College provides substantial subsidies to faculty housing. I have no idea what the magnitude of these benefits are, but there is no reason for the College to be in the housing business for faculty/staff, any more than for it to grow apples or design clothing. Yet, by being in the housing business, the College can transfer some/lots of resources to the faculty.

The same applies to the Children’s Center. Why should the College be in the business of supplying day care? Why not also start an apple orchard? After all, it would make excellent faculty more likely to come to Williams if they knew that they could get great apples at below-market rates.

Rule #1 about successful non-profits is that the insiders think that they do a great job and should be rewarded more generously. But it can be tough just to raise salaries since it is so easy to compare salaries against outside benchmarks. So, to avoid scrutiny, insiders sometimes steer resources toward themselves and their friends via non-salary mechanisms.

Want to really piss off the faculty? Cut (or, at least, trim) the tuition benefit for employee children. Normal professionals (like you and I, dear reader) save their own money over time to send their children to college. Not Williams faculty! Williams will pay half the cost of tuition for a faculty child to attend anywhere.

[Slightly edited.]

And the above only scratches the surface of the various faculty boondoggles that are not counted in total compensation. My favorites were the extra money that faculty received (and still receive?) for creating tutorials. We needed (still need?) to pay them faculty extra to do their jobs!

Third, the point here is not that Williams faculty and staff aren’t, as a group, wonderful. They are! The point is that WBUR should try to provide better context in a discussion of costs at Williams. The College spends much more money on faculty and staff than 90% of its peers, not because it has to, but because Williams is absurdly wealthy and because faculty/staff run the institution.

If the College announced, tomorrow, that it was cutting out the tuition benefit (either for all employees or just for new employees), there would be essentially zero effect on our ability to recruit and retain great faculty/staff. The fact that the College won’t do so — won’t even discuss doing so! — is an indication that Falk has little interest in controlling costs. WBUR should explain this reality to its listeners.

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