There has been a largely media-fed hullabaloo about the salary for the new Chair of CIRM, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, $400,000.
Now don’t get me wrong, that sounds like a lot of money to me personally, but we need to put it in perspective and when we do, the salary is reasonable and appropriate.
The Sac Bee and LA Times have pounded CIRM about the salary issue and used the issue as a can opener to open a manufactured can of worms, where there is none, in order to criticize CIRM more generally. Hyperbolic statements have abounded including the Sac Bee saying that “CIRM is in trouble” and John Simpson was quoted by the California Stem Cell Report as saying that the “selection of Thomas is a ‘public relations disaster from which the stem cell agency will never recover.'” I think to put it mildly these statements are incorrect.
Compared to the billions of dollars that CIRM is using to advance stem cell research, the entire payroll of CIRM is by comparison not particularly significant. While the Director of NIH and some other agencies earn less than Thomas, his expertise is unique and simply put, CIRM has a very different mission requiring quite different experience than the head of NIH or the state Governor. Experience in the worlds of finance and biotech are crucial. In those fields, salaries are very high for top executives, often in the millions of dollars.
In addition, as David Jensen pointed out, the state of California pays some other folks dramatically higher salaries than what Thomas will receive, and here are the top 5:
- Jeff Tedford, UC Berkeley football coach, $2,338,409.39
- Benjamin Clark Howland, UCLA basketball coach, $2,135,188.22
- Timothy H. Mccalmont, UCSF professor of medicine, $1,902,464.33
- Philip E. Leboit, UCSF professor of medicine, $1,854,158.22
- Ronald Busuttil, UCLA professor of medicine, $1,782,044.62
Note that the top two are sports coaches, who together have a combined salary of nearly $4.5 million. What the heck? Why are people complaining about salaries at CIRM when we are dumping that kind of dough on two sports coaches? I love sports, but I personally think that paying that much money for coaches is grossly excessive. Why don’t the LA Times and Sac Bee talk about that?
I bet that if you add up the salaries of all the major head coaches in state universities in California, their salaries would be well over $10 million and there are not very many of them: stunningly, that figure exceeds the entire proposed 2010-2011 CIRM payroll. So we as a state pay more in salaries for our sports coaches than to pay the salaries of everyone at the entire multibillion dollar CIRM agency? What does that say about our priorities?
I know the economy is struggling and it’s a tense situation, but we have to view salaries in the appropriate context. And while it is not always true that “you get what you pay for”, I would argue that in the case of CIRM and salaries, this old saying very much applies. CIRM needs top-notch leaders, it has them, and is paying appropriate salaries.