I have been engaged in a minor dust-up with my good friend Conor Dugan over reports that Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly has been entertaining talks with the Philadelphia Eagles concerning their head coaching vacancy. It should come as a surprise to no one that there are many persons who read FPR who are Notre Dame fans. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a Michigan man, and also that I have less than high regard for Brian Kelly. Indeed, a short post I wrote upon Kelly’s hiring at Notre Dame was regarded by some – not without just cause – as “pretty stupid.” One should be careful about highlighting the behavior of one person in an inordinately corrupt and perversely incentivized economic system. But, given the way Notre Dame hired Kelly away from Cincinnati, Notre Dame fans ought not be surprised if he ditches them in due order.
Conor asked if there was any substantive difference between Kelly and Brady Hoke or Rich Rodriguez, to which the answer seems to me to be “no.” In some ways I found Rich Rod to be the most objectionable (and not just because he ran Michigan football into the ground) because he left home. There was one question raised on that thread, however, that caught my interest: who of us wouldn’t use such an inquiry so as to either double our salary or use as leverage to extract more out of our employer? That is an interesting question, and makes some pretty interesting assumptions about income and the good life.
In answer, I would like to believe I would do neither of those things. My employer has been good to me. They treat me and pay me fairly. Were I to leverage another offer to squeeze more money out of them there are all sorts of harms that would result from that: a distortion of the salary scale, the generation of distrust between the administration and me, budgetary consequences that could lead to higher tuition for students, resentment among colleagues, and so forth. In other words, such deliberations are not mere private transactions between two parties but contain many externalities, most of which are negative. I am living close to family and friends in a culture that more or less makes sense. More money is no compensation for those things.
Then, of course, there is the issue of what it suggests about my character. Am I really willing to pit two parties against each other so that I can extract maximum profit from one of them? It may be that most human beings would do it, but it’s hard to see the justification for doing it, unless you believe that the summum bonum of life is the maximization of personal material well-being.
Alvin Plantinga was still a professor at Calvin College when I was a student there. The story goes (and I have good reason to regard my source for this as unimpeachable) that every year Plantinga would have a meeting with the President where he would share with the President all the offers he had received that year from other universities. Every year the President would say to him “I think your place is here.” Plantinga never used these conversations, I’m told, as leverage. His salary and workload remained consistent with everyone else’s. He never tried to extract more money from the administration. He was simply discussing with the head of the community his place within it. One year he went in with an offer from Notre Dame. President Diekema looked up from the offer sheet and said “I think you need to take this one.” The time of life, the nature of the offer, the understanding of Plantinga’s unique gifts – all this led to a mutual decision about what was best for all parties. My understanding is that Plantinga never harbored resentment about being discouraged from going to an Ivy league school (his personal memoirs indicate that even after Diekema’s imprimatur he had a hard time leaving Calvin). In some ways I think it is instructive for understanding how personal decision-making ought to take place within a communal context. I don’t expect Notre Dame or Michigan or any other schools with a multi-million dollar football program to get that. In the meantime, there are lots of broken promises and broken hearts.