IvyGate Presidential Fame Caucus: David Skorton

This is the fourth installment of a series studying the persona of each Ivy League president—their bank accounts, their haircuts, and the extent to which they’re known and loved. I’m covering each president one by one, in order of who gets the most green for tending to the Ivy. Now, here’s Cornell President David J. Skorton: doctor-administrator-Rod Burgundy impersonator.

Let’s begin with the word most used to describe David Skorton: jazzy.

He’s a jazzy man. He’s got a jazzy hat. He’s got a jazzy job, as president of Cornell University. He’s cool as Banana-Berry Skorton ice cream that can only be described as a “jazzy chocolate-based premium ice cream flavored with banana and a raspberry swirl”. He’s got a radio show, and that’s pretty jazzy. He plays the jazz flute. And all that jazz.

Can you dig it, man? With 4,463 Facebook friends and counting—how many web friends is too many?—it seems that the kids can dig it, even more than they apparently dig jazz itself. Indeed, Skorton’s got that “avuncular air of approachability” that wins him student perception points and Facebook friends. Yet there may well be a seedy underbelly to this friendly cardiologist, according to the Cornell Sun:

…many of Skorton’s more concrete initiatives are sentimental, more appropriate for a community center than an institution of higher learning.

The column also cites an editorial that criticized an email Skorton sent for Martin Luther King Day, inviting students to bring soup to the needy:

We all love soup, but it’s not entirely clear how some cauldron-sized portions of butternut squash bisque are going to solve the issues Dr. King strove to overcome.

More rich broth on Skorton after the jump!

That’s one opinion. Skorton has his own, in a monthly column for the Sun. In these inches of glory, the big man on campus unzips the truth for all to see:

You may think of the president as the “boss” of Cornell University but, believe me, I have many to whom I “report.”

When he’s not putting words in quotes unnecessarily, Skorton gets down to the bare reality of his life of stardom:

5:45 a.m.: I am awakened by the sounds and the wet nose of our younger Newfoundland, Billie. She is ready to “go” and I mean NOW. I struggle out of bed, gently wake the older Newfie, Miles, and we head out the door for a first morning walk. A quick check of the weather, and I’m ready for whatever comes … not! I fight the urge to climb back into bed and decide to further refine my finely tuned athletic skills.

This is the start to a typical day in the life, Skorton reports, followed by a breakfast of Shredded Wheat and Cheerios, a 10:45 banana—“grab a banana, feel self-righteous about my healthy snack choice,” an 11:00 chocolate chip cookie—“get rid of the evidence and return to the office, ready for anything,” followed by further fantasizing about cookies and, later, delivery from his personal account at Banfi’s.

When he’s not eating on the job, he’s reimagining it. In the wake of a $135 million deficit, Skorton launched this campaign for introspection in order to determine where the university can afford to make cuts and restructure the budget model. As he unapologetically put it, “Forgive me for saying this, but there are things we could do better.”

Despite the school’s money problems, Skorton still seems to be doing pretty jazzy. According to the latest count from the Chronicle of Higher Education, he makes a total of $836,382 a year—with $636,578 pay and $199,804 in benefits. Not too bad for a guy who described his transition to university administration as happening “quite by mistake,” since “when I was in the band, I was the follower not the leader. I was the one who was frequently told, ‘Come on squirt, let’s hit that f-sharp, not f.’”

And although now that little squirt is a big university president, he’ll always be a nice Jewish boy at heart.

So let’s crunch the numbers in yet another entirely legitimate mathematical calculation of Skorton’s value:

[Salary – (expected cost of haircut + jazz flute lessons) + Google hits + student newspaper columns published)] / weeks spent living in freshman dorm each fall =

[$836,382 – ($50 + $75) + 86,700 + 26)] / 1 =

922, 983 Ivy President Points!

Stay tuned for Brown President Ruth Simmons—she rubs elbows with the stars!

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