Christopher Lucero | Sayre’s Law and Higher Education

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

Law and order. Yes, law, and order.

Law in any form is our chosen modus of oppression for any number of socially normative methods for modifying the behavior of those who are misfits.

In a liberal society, we choose to believe in mankind’s benevolence and choose to believe that there really is rehabilitation, that someone who has gone astray can become wholly rehabilitated to follow those norms, and become a forthright citizen again.

In a conservative society, those choices are less faithful of the spirit of mankind, and less benevolent of those who are not within the norms we have established.

Those norms have very long lifetimes, especially when our democratically structured system has diminishing democratic attribute (electoral college, congressional inaction and deadlock, etc.). Change is slow and painfully difficult. The status quo dominates.

Justice is complicated. The system is not 100% reliable (that is, it does make mistakes of both type I and type II errors), and we trod along hoping it performs decently and fairly pursuing “Justice for ALL”

Yet, we are not delivering that. As one of my pre-law college buddies stated, so eruditely back in 1977, “How much justice can you afford?”

But, I digress.

There is a law that uniquely describes the volume of College of the Canyons board elections’ sniping and political maneuvers on view in The Signal funny pages (prior to the election).

I am here to inform you of a law that was crafted by a political science professor a wee bit earlier than the “law” my buddy who became a State Bar licensee crafted.

Wallace Stanley Sayre was a law professor at Columbia University. He is credited with coining a “law,” applied to academic political maneuvers. Hopefully, this is received as humorous, or cynical at worst, rather than inflammatory.

According to Wikipedia: On Dec. 20, 1973, the Wall Street Journal quoted Sayre: “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.” 

Political scientist Herbert Kaufman, a colleague and coauthor of Sayre, has attested to Fred R. Shapiro, editor of The Yale Book of Quotations, that Sayre usually stated his claim as, “The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low,” and that Sayre originated the quip by the early 1950s.

Yet, this may misguide us. A quick review of both transparentcalifornia and openthebooks websites shows that, once we get past the 55 or so highly compensated administrators, there are around 200 astonishingly highly paid instructors and then around 150 more administrative positions (staffed by 400 individuals), still paying quite well, and mostly guaranteeing a generous pension from local/state taxpayers for them all.

Breakdown is like this:

First 51 administrators (chancellor, at the top, $500,000): $10.87 million.

Top 191 professors: $32.73 million.

Next 400 general/administrative, adjunct and support: $46.2 million.

Grand total: $89.8 million, about $3,500 per student. And that’s just what we can see.

Sayre wrote a law that only sort of applies.

There are bound to be plenty of support functions and contractors that are not state employees who have found savory goodness in this smooth-flowing, meaty gravy. Vegan options available.

Christopher Lucero


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