Monday, April 06, 2009

75 Bucks for a Bottle of Wine?

Once again, I welcome my two readers to another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. You know that the economy has affected all segments of society. Higher education is no exception. In fact, here at UT Tyler, the administration has put in some belt-tightening measures that are, to be polite, a little less than popular. However, we are nowhere near these guys in San Francisco.

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, UCSF had to actually pass a policy to tell their faculty and administrators to limit their wine drinking to less than $75 dollars a bottle (or $15 dollars per glass). By the way, this just covers their medical department. Now, while college administrators are often known for being a little more upscale, this certainly takes the cake. Or not. Here in Texas, many may remember the case of former Texas State University Priscilla Slade who was accused of using university funds to lavishly maintain her home and entertain people. With a hung jury, she seems to have gotten lucky. But in her case, there was no mention of fancy wine dinners (as far as I can tell). Now, in the interest of disclosure, I have to point out that I am a wine drinker. I think my two readers, if they have been paying attention, probably know this. However, I am an academic librarian in a small state institution. I don't get paid enough to afford a $75 bottle of wine. Heck, if I were to take some work-related travel, and I bought a glass of wine during a dinner for $5 (using the campus allowance), it may just be enough to get the auditors after me. If I buy it myself, and I keep it off the receipt I turn in, it's ok. You have to love the rules of the bureacratic state machine. Anyhow, I rarely drink when I go out on professional travel, and if I do, it is on my dime (that way it is no one's business but my own). But I digress. The point is that I find it both mildly amusing and mildly irritating that a time when things are tight, educators have to be told to limit their drinking on their university's dime. So, let's look at the SF Chronicle article some more. Because this is the kind of stuff that falls under "I could not make this up if I wanted to." As usual, the snarky commentary is mine.

  • "The maximum reimbursement: $75 per bottle of wine, or $15 per glass." Notice that $75 is actually the maximum reimbursement. They are not being chided for spending that amount; just telling them to keep it at that number or less.
  • "There is no explicit limit placed on how many bottles of wine may be purchased for such occasions, according to documents obtained by The Chronicle." On the other hand, you can purchase cases of wine as long as you keep the cost per bottle to $75 or less. Here in Texas, you can go to one of the fine state wineries (no, I am not being snarky about the fine wines; Texas really does produce some excellent wine, but that is another post) and get plenty of good wine for a lot less. Plus you would be sponsoring the local industry and keeping the local economy working. I am sure in California, known for its wines around the world, they could come up with some good deal with some winery or two in Napa for higher education entertaining. Yes, I understand college presidents and administrators once in a while have to entertain certain guests (say, donors). I am thinking what better way to have a good glass of wine with that fancy meal than going local. Don't get me wrong. I am sure you can get expensive wine in California wineries, but I am also sure you can get something as good if not better for a more modest price. Besides, it is known that in blind taste tests, the cheap wine and the expensive wine are not really different.
  • "Additionally, [Michael] Chen [ a senior finance manager in the Department of Medicine] stressed another new policy at UCSF: "No reimbursement from university funds is allowed for mixed drinks or hard liquor." So you can forget about that nice martini before dinner or the even nicer cognac afterwards, at least if you expect the college to pay for it. And let's not even go into cigars here. However, may I suggest that maybe Kentucky could make an exception so that bourbon can be an option? I have no idea how colleges in Kentucky handle the wine issue, but again, thinking about the local economy and all. By the way, I have done parts of the Bourbon Tour (the link I put just now), and it is worth it. I am going to try to do the rest this summer. Stay tuned.
  • "'Those meals have a real business purpose. But that doesn't mean they have to be treated like a banker or a corporate executive,' he said. 'Coming to UCSF means being willing to be a part of a public institution and be proud of it. We want people who are passionate about the patient care and research that we do.'" The "he" is Mr. Chen. So, in other words, we are not bankers or AIG people, dang it, so act accordingly. Translation: you work for a public university, so bring your passion and sense of service, because we sure as heck are not going to pay you what you may actually be worth or what you likely would get in the private sector.
And let's not even look at what many campuses are doing in terms of having to raise tuition while states cut more university funding left and right. Of course, having that fancy meal? That's all part of the program.


waltc said...

I guess I'd have to take issue with a couple of things here.

First, the "medical department" of UCSF is the entire campus--it's a medical school. The dollars are different in medical centers, for better or for worse.

Second, we're talking $75 for a bottle of wine in a restaurant. That's equivalent to $25-$30 for the same bottle of wine in a store, maybe less than that for top restaurants. Yes, that's still enough for a good wine.

Third, the claim that people can't tell the difference between good wine and plonk when tasted blind is one of those "it all depends" cases--it's not a universal truth, and certainly not demonstrated universally.

The purpose of the memo was to stop administrators and faculty on University business from paying more than $75 per bottle--which had happened on a few occasions. The Chron got a good story out of it, which is fine. (By the way: Yes, I know Texas makes some excellent wines--and I've seen some of them on Texas restaurant menus at $15 a glass and up at times.)

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Hi Walt:

I did not know the "medical department" was the whole campus. The way the article was written gave me the impression it was just a part of a larger campus. Should have known to pull up their webpage and have a look. Irony is that I made sure to type "department" to match the article (I had typed "medical school" initially).

Hmm, true, we are talking in restaurants. At 75 bucks, that is still pricey (well, to the peon in me anyways). But yea, the perspective that it would be about 25-30 dollars in the store does make a little more sense.

Third, yep. Very much so. It can be very much a "depends" on who, where, so on.

Anyhow, it did make for a small story to point out. For me, part of the allure, so to speak, is that here they are cutting (as in slash and burn, leave nothing behind) pretty much everything. My professional development travel and support is gone for instance. So this fell right in.

And yes, some restaurants here do feature the state wines on the menu. Indiana restaurants, in some areas, do it too. It is usually if there is a winery nearby, or in Indianapolis.

I still prefer to uncork my wine at home with friends and family, but have been known to get one bottle on a date with the missus once in a blue moon when going out.

Best, and keep on blogging.

waltc said...

Well, yes: There's no reason a non-Californian would know UCSF is a med school.

The SF Chronicle has done a good ongoing job of holding UC's feet to the fire about high salaries and hidden perks and bonuses for a growing group of top management, while faculty & students are suffering. Unfortunately, university Top Managers seem still to be Top Managers at heart, salaries, perk expectations and all...

Angel, librarian and educator said...


See, I learned something new there about UCSF.

And yes, university top managers will be. . .you get the idea. ;)

Best, and keep on blogging.