$556.40 for Olive Jar

U of Akron, under fire for layoffs, details spending on presidential home renovations -- and one item leaps out for its cost and its lack of olives.

August 7, 2015
Illustration of the olive jar's Facebook and Twitter accounts (may not be actual jar).

What does the modern public university president need in a bedroom?

An itemized list of the $951,000 in expenses on renovations of the presidential home of the University of Akron's leader, Scott Scarborough, features many items one might find in a bedroom (if not, for most people, at these prices). As published by The Akron Beacon-Journal, the purchases included $1,742 for a headboard, $2,693 for two night tables and a mirror for $1,844. But it was an item less expensive than those (and other bedroom purchases) that seems to have created the most distress at Akron: an olive jar purchased for $556.40.

In part because many of us function without expensive olive jars in our bedrooms, that purchase has people talking.

The University of Akron told the newspaper that private money, not state funds, was used for the renovations and purchases, and that an endowment restricted to use on the presidential home provided the money.

But that answer doesn't seem to be stopping the criticism, especially since the interior designer on the project told the Beacon-Journal, among other things, that the purchase didn't include any olives. “There were no olives in this one when we got it. The Greek olive jar is an antique. It was used to store either olives or olive oil,” said the decorator. “They vary in price and can cost more than that and they’re different sizes. I’ve seen them five feet tall. They can be huge. It’s a decorative piece -- something nice to have in a corner of a room, like plants …. It was used to fill the spot in the northeast corner of the room, and it actually cost less than the initial plan.”

The olive jar now has a Facebook page and its own Twitter feed, with tweets such as, "I'm in the midst of an existential crisis. If I hold no olives, am I actually an olive jar?" and "Holy shit. I cost that much??"

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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