The recent nomination and subsequent confirmation of Jack Lew as Treasury secretary has brought to light startling evidence of inordinate severance payments made by NYU to its most prized administrative officials. A recent article by The New York Times highlights several instan-ces in which NYU paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to departing officials, some of whom were leaving voluntarily and did not warrant a severance package — including Lew, who received a $685,000 bonus.
It’s hard to imagine the rationale behind such generous gift-giving to someone voluntarily leaving an institution — most people simply receive a signed card from their co-workers. Perhaps NYU expects Lew, and others who were similarly rewarded, to eventually return to its administrative team, since it’s normal for upper-level employees to have short-term contracts lasting only a few years. Maybe NYU believes that former executives will somehow help the university when directing the companies they end up working for. Or it might simply be a grandiose way of saying thank you.
Nevertheless, this raises several questions for university officials to answer. Students at NYU, one of the most expensive schools in the United States, expect their tuition to be allocated to the continual improvement of their educational environment. Qualified faculty, of course, is a basic essential for any university, but how far can these rewards go before they become unjustifiable? The promise of stability from any employer is necessary to attract candidates for a position, but it seems unnecessary to hand out bonuses to already well-paid employees. Even more difficult to comprehend is the idea of providing severance packages to those who choose to leave voluntarily.
We cannot rush to judge the university’s actions before all the relevant facts are known. At the end of the day, NYU is a private university and thus a business. Its fiscal decisions can often seem profit-driven, like any enterprise. However, the university is officially listed as a non-profit institution. Where, then, does the money for these parting paychecks come from? To us NYU students, paying 10 years worth of NYU tuition to an individual who voluntarily left to work at a major bank, and who is now in charge of our nation’s finances, just does not seem fair.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 5 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at firstname.lastname@example.org.