William Gates Sr., the longtime University of Washington regent, said at a meeting of Crosscut writers Tuesday afternoon that he was not consulted about the recent appointment of UW Provost Phyllis Wise to Nike's corporate board.
At the same time, Gates said that he saw a benefit to the provost's appointment. "There's value to Phyllis having a spot like that," Gates said. It was a sentiment echoed by UW President Mark Emmert, who said in an interview with Seattle Weekly's Nina Shapiro that he was "very supportive" of Wise's directorship and that as a Nike board member Wise would be well positioned to advocate for "appropriate behavior."
As first reported by the Seattle Times, Wise will be paid between $132,000 and $217,000 a year as a Nike director in addition to her annual university salary of $535,000.
In Victorian parlance, Wise's appointment might be construed as "ill-timed."
After deliberating for two hours last Thursday, members of the University of Washington's Advisory Committee on Trademarks and Licensing voted to put Nike on notice for disregarding the University's code of conduct. Specific charges include Nike's multiple failures to abide by mandated disclosure standards as well as its refusal to pay severance to workers at two Honduran factories (a violation of Honduran law).
It was, by any measure, a watershed moment for labor-rights enforcement. As Matt Reed, a member of the UW's Student Labor Action Project said Tuesday, "This refocuses the narrative, that we don't do business with corporations that exploit labor."
The committee's decision comes on the heels of the UW's recent action against Russell Athletic as well as student pressure to provide severance for the laid-off workers of the Estofel Apparel Factory in Guatemala City.
On his blog today, state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, a member of the House Higher Education Committee, wrote:
I do believe that Provost Wise, the university'ês chief academic officer, must set a positive example by either rejecting the appearance of a conflict of interest (no matter how slight) or by donating at least 90 percent of her directorship fees to scholarships at the University of Washington. That would still leave her with earning an additional $20,000 a year &mdash 50 percent of the annual earning of a state legislator — for attending five meetings. There can be little question that she is earning these dollars because of her public position and her public role affiliated with the University of Washington. The public should receive compensation, too.
We are facing the most severe economic crisis in generations. Higher education is on the front line of those cuts, and the coming months of the legislative session will be brutally painful for those of us who have to make those decisions. This move by the provost, while made sincerely and with only the best of intentions, is not helpful in our larger efforts to convince our colleagues that our institutions of higher education need more support, and local control, not less. She is in the middle of perfect storm of perception. During normal times, perhaps this would not be an issue, but we don'êt live in normal times. And the fact is the public simply cannot understand why a public servant should benefit so handsomely from an appointment to a private board.
Presupposing that Emmert accepts the advisory committee's recommendations, the burden will be on Nike to come up with a timely and enforceable remediation plan. If not, Nike will (no pun intended) get the UW boot.