Want to know what universities really value? Just follow the money!

My papa used to say if you want to know what people really value just look at how they spend their money.

So what does one see if you turn your gaze to universities in this country?

Well if you read their fancy web sites and mission statements and the copy coming out of their PR machines, the story is a variation of this: we value excellent education, high-quality research, top-notch faculty, and above all else, the students. Always the students are listed as priority #1.

But what happens if we Make It Real and look at the money?

According to a recent New York Times article “…a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.” The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that “across U.S. higher education, nonclassroom costs have ballooned, administrative payrolls being a prime example. The number of employees hired by colleges and universities to manage or administer people, programs and regulations increased 50% faster than the number of instructors between 2001 and 2011 …”. And again, from the WSJ in 2011: “From 1975 to 2005, the costs of attending an American university tripled. During that period, faculty-to-student ratios stayed relatively constant, but administrator-to-student ratios ballooned. The number of administrators increased by 85%, and the number of staffers rose by 240%. Administrative salaries shot up as well. Today, 81 university presidents are paid more than half a million dollars a year, and 12 earn more than a million.”

Faculty salaries have remained more or less static, whereas over the last decade the salaries of the expanding administration at universities has dramatically increased. In addition many institutions struggle to find the money to hire new faculty to even replace the ones that retire. And they continue to hire ever-increasing numbers of relatively inexpensive part-time “adjunct faculty”.

Why is there this increasing glut of college administrations? Dr. Benjamin Ginsberg in his book “The Fall of the Faculty” claims it stems from the nature of bureaucracy itself, that upper and middle management tend to measure their power and status by the size of their “kingdoms”. And since management controls the purse-strings, their kingdoms continue to grow and grow and grow. From the WSJ book review: “Mr. Ginsberg argues that universities have degenerated into poorly managed pseudo-corporations controlled by bureaucrats so far removed from research and teaching that they have barely any idea what these activities involve. He attacks virtually everyone—from overpaid presidents and provosts down through development officers, communications specialists and human-resource staffers—but he reserves his most bitter scorn for the midlevel “associate deans” and “assistant deans” who often have the most direct control over the faculty.”

In this day and age when university tuition is skyrocketing and student debt is crippling a whole generation of our kids, it is time we honestly ask the hard questions and begin to reel-in the excesses found in higher-education. And these excesses are fairly easy to find if we just follow the money.

[Late-night-addendum: I confess this posting has directly little to do with the topics of this week’s seminar. However several conversations that have occurred this week left me pondering topics that led to this post. What do we really value as a university? What do I value as a member of the faculty? What can I do to work towards that which I value? What do I do if the university does not support that which I value? How can I influence choices that are made in order to promote my values? How do I Make It Real?]



3 thoughts on “Want to know what universities really value? Just follow the money!”

  1. Thank you for your post. I think this have EVERYTHING to do with what we have been talking about this week. I say that with an unhappy sigh.

    As the article you note quotes: “universities have degenerated into poorly managed pseudo-corporations controlled by bureaucrats so far removed from research and teaching that they have barely any idea what these activities involve.”.

    If these are the power figures above us controlling the purse strings …how can we (who actually do this work and can envision reform) affect change?

    Here’s me, agreeing with you and “Making it real.” Patty

    1. I find that I often construct or write what some call rants or diatribes and then immediately begin arguing the other side in my head (or even in print). My addendum on the original post was my beginnings in that process. My pointing the finger at the administration is perhaps a bit unfair and too easy of a target. For if one pokes around a bit and examines the problems I highlight in my post you will quickly find that The Faculty have, over time, enabled a lot of these behaviors. How? By choosing to be detached and uninvolved. And color me guilty! For years I wanted nothing but to be left alone to my research and teaching, and I was all for anything the administration could do to enable me to NOT be involved in the nuts and bolts of actually running the university. I think a partial solution to administrative bloat is for The Faculty to get more involved and take back some control of The University. However, even on good days I look at this task as something that even Sisyphus would turn away from as too difficult to tackle.

      1. I could not agree more: faculty involvement is key. And per your final presentation to seminar today: you are not alone in feeling a reconnection this week to the most profound aspects of why we do what we do as members of this academic community.

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