Lawrence Small's Big Sick Days
NPR the other day reported on one Lawrence Small, who recently resigned as head of the Smithsonian Institution (which runs the Smithsonian Museum, the National Gallery, and the National Zoo).
I've only been there once, but I'm a big fan of the Smithsonian. It's the type of place that I hope someday to get really lost in. (Note to self: get lost in the Smithsonian before you're so old you really get lost in the Smithsonian.) Plus, the one time I went there, the Air & Space Museum was displaying a GeeBee, a barnstorming plane of the 1930's. GeeBee stands for Granville Brothers, and Tom Granville was married to my husband's Aunt Agnes. After Jim's father died (when Jim was only 11), Tom Granville was especially kind to Jim. Although I never met Tom, I have a soft spot for him in my heart (and, by extension, a soft spot for the Smithsonian). I also like looking through their catalog.
In any case, what I found intriguing about the report on Small's tenure at the Smithsonian, where he was reported to have presided over "'an imperialistic and insular culture,'" was not his half-a-mil salary. Nor his housing allowance. ($150K a year - that's sure a decent downpayment or a whole lot of rent.)
No, what struck me was that between 2000 and 2007, Small "missed 550 workdays while earning millions on outside projects."
Even generously allowing for 7 full years on the job, that's nearly 80 days per year. Even generously assuming that there are 250 work days in a year, that's nearly 1/3 of all worktime. Out sick. On what I believe is largely our dime, since a lot of the Smithsonian funding comes from Federal tax dollars.
Now sick days are a funny thing, especially among the "professional class." People get their jobs done - putting in the extra hours, going the extra miles - in exchange for a certain amount of flexibility. But this flexibility usually doesn't translate into sick days. I know that there are chiselers and abusers, And, with the exception of a stray mental health day, most people don't take sick days unless they're, well, you know, actually sick. Really sick. Can't get out of bed sick. Can't get out of the bathroom sick. Head exploding sick.
Not 80 days a year sick. Not well enough to earn millions on outside projects sick.
Or, if they have to take 80 days a year, they're completely out of commission and on long term disability. And not getting rich off of it.
Personally, I have always enjoyed exceedingly good health. In the course of my 25-ish years in the corporate world, I may have taken 10 or so days off. In total. Threw my back out. Food poisoning. Bronchitis. Minor surgery. Maybe it was 15 days.
I took one - count 'em, one - mental health day. I was working at Wang and just could not face the day going in there. And I felt so guilty, I ended up making myself sick and spending the day in bed.
550 sick days in 7 years? Un-flipping-imaginable unless you're really sick.
What I don't get is why someone at that level didn't just negotiate a deal that said, "I'll get the job done, in exchange for which I'll have any time left over for me, myself, and I." Calling them sick days as an accounting convenience is ludicrous, an embarrassment, sheer farce. Not to mention that half the people in the country probably don't even get any paid sick time. So why would we want our tax dollars going to underwriting Lawrence Small's quote-unquote sick days?
Just the idea of it makes me sick. Not enough to call in sick. But sick nonetheless.
And I can't help but think that, for all the good that Lawrence Small did the Smithsonian, and he no doubt did some, he could have done more if he hadn't taken all that sick leave. For starters, he could no doubt have found and restored a few more of those fabulous GeeBee's.