Saturday, January 23, 2010

I'll Take Half

I guess I feel sorry for Conan O'Brien's losing his job hosting the Tonight Show -- it was a great gig, he really wanted it, and it can't be fun to be fired. I met Conan during college -- he was a year below me -- and he seemed like a great guy and very funny. And he ended his show with a very gracious speech thanking NBC for the opportunities it's given him over his 20 years there. So I have some sympathy for him.

Still, let's not forget that he's getting paid $32 million to do nothing. And he's free to earn whatever he can at any other job starting in September.

I can confidently say that I would do nothing for half that amount. In fact, probably less.

I am reminded of the time, a few years after I started teaching at GW, that our basketball coach left the school in the midst of scandals (it was reported that he had failed to notify the school of criminal charges against one of the players and that the players had made $1400 worth of phone calls using his son's long-distance code). Even though the school appeared to have good cause to fire the coach, GW announced that it would "honor" the remaining three years of his contract, which meant that it would pay him a reported $450,000 a year to do nothing. (And he wasn't barred from working elsewhere either.) I wanted to let the university know that, if they really needed someone to do nothing, I would do it for half.

(And by the way, this happened not long after our university's then-President made a big fuss about how the law school needed to teach students that improper actions have consequences. Yeah, the consequence is that you get paid to do nothing.)

Of course, Conan hasn't done anything bad, except get bad ratings. But the element of getting paid not to work is common to both stories.

So while I do feel bad for Conan, I don't feel all that bad. Getting paid tens of millions to do nothing is nice work, if you can get it.

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