EVERY few months I get a package of clippings from my brother, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1976.
Last week his new fall edition of the "UMass Alumni Connection" arrived. And sure enough, right there in its usual prominent position was the now-traditional apocalyptic story about the horrible cutbacks and deprivations his poor old alma mater is having to endure: "Campus officials have instituted a two-month hiring freeze and are considering the elimination of as many as 100 positions to cope with a $7 million shortfall . . ."
How odd. Especially when you consider what they're spending our money on at UMass right now. What they're doing is, they're "renovating" the manor house of the university's horse farm. For Dr. Michael Hooker, the president of the allegedly strapped school. Because he needs somewhere to "freshen up" when he's visiting his far-flung dominions, doesn't he?
And God forbid he should have to rent a motel room. I mean, it's tough enough trying to make ends meet with a five-year, guaranteed no-cut $175,000-a-year salary plus the $500,000 life insurance policy and the posh $2,800-a-month Cambridge condo with the valet parking and the "consulting" contract and the special payments into the retirement funds . . .
A call was placed to Hooker's flack, Bill Wright, to inquire about Hooker's new manor house out there in the Golden West. "He was using the chancellor's house out there," Wright explained. "But now we've hired a new chancellor."
That would be David Scott. From Michigan State. Another bargain at $150,000 a year. That doesn't include the car or the house. But back to that swank manor house, on the crest of a hill, overlooking the old horse farm. Not too shabby.
"A caretaker lives on the first floor and no, she hasn't been evicted," Wright continued. "This renovation -- and that's too strong a word for it -- is only on the third floor, and it's for meetings. It does not include a bedroom."
How about a shower, Bill?
"Yes, there's a new shower being built."
Isn't that swell? Are there any other of the little comforts of home, Bill? Is there, say, a pool table.
"A pool table?" Wright sounded perplexed. "Howie, the man is a philosopher."
Oh yeah, I forgot. He's a philosopher. Off his first year at UMass, Hooker seems to be a disciple of Rev. Ike's philosophy: "Don't wait for pie in the sky by and by when you die! Get yours now -- with ice cream on top."
And then, even as I'm talking to Wright, Hooker's allies on the UMass Board of Trustees are dishing out even more raises to Hooker's liegemen, his chancellors. Bill Hogan, that bloated hack from what used to be ULowell, is going up from $96,812 a year to $125,000. It's a great institution he runs up there in the Valley -- two of his students were just convicted of gang-raping a prostitute. Then there's Sherry Penney, the blow-in who runs the hack-infested UMass-Boston campus. She's going from $97,199 to $140,000 by 1995.
"They hadn't had a raise for several years," Wright explained. "And we have those two new chancellors . . ."
Scott, of course, at $150K, and Peter Cressy at the old SMU, now UMass-Dartmouth. Cressy hauls down $125,000 a year.
"And," Wright added, "he's cleared out a few people down there."
If he has, he's the only one. Every one of these campuses is packed with payroll patriots. The Legislature may renege on paying off union contracts for faculty and staff, but they will never, ever touch the public-college bureaucracy. And that's what Michael Hooker, philosopher, has understood from the very beginning.
It's why one of his $100,000 vice presidents is the husband of the Amherst state rep. And why his $80,000 "government relations director" is an ex-state rep. And why the son-in-law of a former House speaker is taking down $140,000 at the UMass Medical Center. And why the close pal of yet another speaker is also nestled at the Medical Center trough for $110,000 a year.
At the State House this is usually called taking hostages.
But now, after figuratively marrying the Legislature, Hooker's taking it One Step Beyond. He's getting hitched to a state rep, the appalling Rep. Carmen Buell, whose discarded spouse was a mere $40,000-a-year prof at Greenfield Community College.
Talk about marrying up, Carmen! Now, if you can just get beyond this tiny controversy about your junket, er, fact-finding mission with all the lobbyists to Puerto Rico . . .
The Hookers' wedding reception, by the way, will take place at the Mullins Center on the UMass-Amherst campus. I guess the manor house won't be ready in time for the gala. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to take a phone call from my brother the UMass grad.
I have to fill him in on this latest round of cutbacks.
Howie Carr is a columnist for the Boston Herald, which published this column Oct. 3.