Last week the Yale Political Union voted 49-25 that the Thain Family Café should be renamed. Usually a resolution like this would go unnoticed by the rest of campus, but I firmly believe this is a cause around which all Yale students should rally.
John Thain was the CEO of Merrill Lynch when it was acquired by Bank of America. He was terminated shortly afterward, but not before making off with a $40 million severance package and a $1.2 million office renovation. Ordinarily I would not have a problem with corporations paying their executives whatever they want, except for one little detail: Bank of America just received $45 billion from the federal government through the financial bailout passed last fall.
Thain generously gave money to create the Thain Family Café prior to the financial crisis or the bailout. Chronologically, the donated money was from Thain’s pre-bailout personal wealth. That must be acknowledged and is not disputed.
But Mr. Thain drove his company into the ground, sold a lemon to Bank of America and parachuted out with $40 million courtesy of the American taxpayers who bailed him out. Yet Yale University continues to honor Thain by keeping his name on the café despite all that.
I am about to draw a parallel that is admittedly hyperbolic, but I hope it illustrates the principle behind this issue. Suppose Pol Pot had given money to Yale in the early 1970s to endow the Pol Pot Café. Prior to the Khmer Rouge, Yale would have had no reason not to accept a gracious donation that improved the life of its students. But afterwards, even if Yale had good reasons to start with, it would be unconscionable to honor such a despicable person by naming a Yale facility in his honor.
John Thain, while certainly no Pol Pot, has done despicable things. He stole $40 million from the taxpayers of this country at a time when they face great hardship. I am a free-market, limited-government conservative — my issue is not with extravagance by private businesses. The problem is that Bank of America took $45 billion of our money, with our complete trust, and frittered it away on a $40 million bonus for a failure of a CEO. It is an offense against not just the businesses involved, but against the entire American people.
The president and secretary of the Treasury have already decried Thain’s abuse of this country’s trust with his decadent bonus. The vice president went so far as to say about Wall Street executives like Thain that he’d love to “throw these guys in the brig.” All I want is for Yale to stop honoring this hack with a café named after him.
This is an issue that has not just united the left and right in the Yale Political Union, but an issue that ought to transcend our personal political beliefs. Whether you are for or against the bailout, for free markets or more regulation, Thain’s abuse of the American people’s trust is a disgusting deceit. President Levin and the Yale administration should use whatever power is at their disposal to erase a scoundrel’s name from our college.
Jake McGuire is a junior in Pierson College.