I've become fixated on University of Washington President Mark Emmert's home life. Did you know he has two? There's the Hill-Crest mansion, which has housed UW presidents since...

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I’ve become fixated on University of Washington President Mark Emmert’s home life.

Did you know he has two?
There’s the Hill-Crest mansion, which has housed UW presidents since the 1930s and is undergoing $540,000 in renovations.

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And there’s the $6,000-a-month downtown Seattle condominium where Emmert and his wife, DeLaine, are staying, rent-free, while the mansion is being done.

The renovations — including the installment of a master-bedroom suite — are being paid for with money from a fund set up specifically for the mansion’s upkeep, according to Norm Arkans, UW’s executive director of media relations and communications.

As for the pricey condo? That’s being covered by “discretionary funds,” Arkans said.

They’re not taxpayer funds but private gifts that can be used for anything at the UW, like … Oh, I don’t know … improvements to a building used by more than two people?

Am I the only one breathing into a paper bag over this?

Doesn’t help that I learned about this fancy-pants “trading spaces” just weeks after Emmert was found to be the highest-paid president of a public university in the nation.

Emmert was hired under a salary-and-benefits package that totaled $762,000. His annual salary alone is $470,000 — more than that of the president of the United States, who makes $400,000 a year (including a $50,000 expense allowance).

The UW is still a public university, right?

No one I spoke to at UW blinked over this, not even in light of a 7 percent tuition increase imposed last fall; or the fact that on-campus thermostats have been turned down to save money. (I know; I taught a class there this semester.)

“Where did we go wrong, Norm?” I joked to Arkans. He didn’t laugh.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, noting Emmert’s pay is “standard” for college presidents.

Arkans offered a few big numbers of his own: UW is a $3-billion-a-year enterprise with two hospitals doing $1 billion worth of funded research every year. The UW has some 30,000 employees, 40,000 students. And Emmert at the top.

“It is a lot of money,” Arkans said of Emmert’s compensation. “But the people who rise to leading these institutions have a whole diverse set of skills. There aren’t a lot of people in the country who end up being good at this job.”

Well, see, that’s the thing. With this kind of money flying around, Emmert better end up being good at this job. The dollars being spent demand it.

More than one of the students in my journalism class turned in papers focused on the high cost of education.

It’s an old saw, but it cuts even deeper when the man in charge is sawing logs in the high-rent district.

But I guess he’s going to need his rest.

I got my UW paycheck the other day. As for the payday for everyone else at UW?

That’s Emmert’s to deliver.

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

She misses her class already.