Home / Dave Brockington / No, Really?

No, Really?


According to The Guardian, “managers” hired by universities in the UK have increased a modest 33% in the last five years.  Academic staff have increased by 10% in that time (not my department, depending on how you spin the numbers, we’ve either held steady or lost one half of a FTE), students 9%.  While it’s SOP amongst my colleagues to complain bitterly at the encroaching tyranny of administrators and bureaucracy, I consoled myself by believing that it is just grumbling, and if we didn’t target the nebulous bureaucracy, we’d find something else.  In other words, yes, we can be whiners.  However, that does not appear to be the case, as much in this article rings true.

Front line administrative staff, the wonderful people I interact with on a daily basis and who do a necessary job in a professional manner, have been cut back and consolidated on my campus in the past year.  They’re less accessible to both academics and students, and there are fewer of them.  It’s just speculation on my behalf, as I have no idea how many managerial level administrators my campus has added in the last five years, but anecdotally, I do seem to be receiving a considerably larger volume of intrusive emails from a number of different directions since I started at my current institution seven academic years ago.  It’s not a leap to speculate that financing these email senders has come at the cost of the front line staff.

This is what the chair of the Association of University Administrators (christ, they have their own interest group) has to say on the issue: “Universities, she says, are simply larger than they were two decades ago.” [. . .] Roles such as marketing and human resources have grown so that universities themselves can expand in a more ordered and coherent way. “It’s an important part of the direction of a university, because if you don’t have the right people you can’t deliver.”

Have universities really grown enough in the past five years to justify a ratio of administrators / academics / students at 33% / 10% / 9% ? Or, perhaps universities are losing sight of their core mission, which presumably is the creation and dissemination of knowledge?

In other news, I’ll be at the Western Political Science Association meetings in San Francisco tomorrow through Saturday, disseminating some knowledge I’ve helped create.  And drinking a beer or two.  (I understand that both SL and DW will be there as well).  I’ll also be slightly jet lagged, as I only arrived on the West Coast yesterday afternoon, and I fly down to SF tomorrow morning departing Oregon at 630am.  It’s a rare occasion to catch me wearing a suit and a tie.

If I don’t get a post up tonight on LGM about our paper, I’ll get it up Saturday or so.  I like to think it’s interesting.

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  • ExiledInLA

    Well I am not a university administrator, but I work in a related field (non-profit research administrator) and our field has exploded in the past decade or two. This has, in part, followed a significant new investment of public and private money in research, but more importantly, also a huge increase in regulation/audit/enforcement actions. Non-profits that I have worked for are continually scaling up compliance staff etc even just to deal with the same volume of research because every year there is a new (or previously unenforced) rule/regulation on the minds of our auditors. Don’t know how much the situation carries over to the Higher Ed side, or across the pond, but just a thought. Just off the top of my head, litigation and liability have certainly exploded for higher ed, no?

  • WrongfulDeath


    For the first time, the survey reported leaders of private universities earning $1 million in a single year. The four others identified were Audrey K. Doberstein, formerly of Wilmington College in Delaware ($1,370,973); E. Gordon Gee of Vanderbilt University ($1,326,786); John R. Silber of Boston University ($1,253,352); and John N. McCardell Jr., formerly of Middlebury College in Vermont ($1,213,141).

    Overall, the survey said, nine presidents of private universities earned more than $900,000 each, compared with none the year before, and 50 presidents of private universities earned at least $500,000 each, a 19 percent increase over the previous year.

    • MikeJ

      There’s a lot more coaches that make more than $1M pa.

  • Simon

    Yes, but all those new wellness courses don’t run themselves, do they?

  • DocAmazing

    While in San Pancho, consider drinking your beer at 21st Amendment, one of our better brewery/restaurants, down by Some Telecom Company Park, or maybe at Magnolia, at Haight and Masonic. Both worth the taxi fare.

    • Dave Brockington

      I’ve been to 21st Amendment. Not sure what our plans are over the next couple of nights, but Friday night I will be hanging out with one of my fellow beer snobs (not a political scientist). He raves about Magnolia, where I’ve not been. I’m partial to the Toronado, for old time’s sake, and until my fiancee broke my Twenty Tank pint glass during her visit to England last week, I used to have tangible memories of that place as well (now, just etherial memories, I guess; she got off with a slap on the wrist).

  • DrDick

    This has been true in US colleges and universities since the 80s with growth in administration far outstripping either faculty of enrollments. A trend made worse by the fact that administrators routinely make far higher salaries than faculty, thus driving up costs without discernible benefit to students or faculty.

  • MAJeff

    The best part is how all those administrators make more busy work for faculty. Another report needed here, another one there…pretty soon the administrators have justified their own position at the expense of everyone else’s labor and resources.

  • dave

    Regulatory burden is a serious issue, and may well account for a lot of this growth. The alternative implied explanation, that administrations that are ruthlessly penny-pinching in relation to academic functions just cannot help creating new managerial posts through some accountant’s version of Tourette’s Syndrome, doesn’t seem to me to hold much water. That it is down to regulatory burden does not, of course, make it right; but then, hey, at least you can vote for someone who’s in favour of cutting red tape, eh?

    • dave3544

      How does it not hold much water? You have people in positions who have the power to create new positions to ease their workload. It would be foolish to think they would not.

      The same goes for salaries. Managers decide what their fellow managers will get paid. Do you think that it is beyond imagination that a group of ten administrators would think that their fellows administrators have all been working their butts off and deserve modest $20K raises (total of $200,000 to the university), but that giving all of the faculty even a 2% raise (total of around $2M) is out of the question?

      And let’s not forget, either a Board of Trustees or some other university governing Board charged with oversight is going to be made up of management of the local corporations who feel much more (dare I say “class”?) kinship with the university administration than with the faculty.

      Granted, I am writing in an American context, whereas Dave and perhaps yourself are using a British context, but I don’t see how self-proliferating and salary-giving is so easily dismissed.

      • dave brockington

        There’s plenty of literature in poli sci about bureaucracy and bureaucratic rationality. Rent-seeking is a classic, and I suspect what we’re seeing is more rent-seeking than it is regulatory environment. A lot of what I have to do as Head of my department and as programme manager for the politics undergraduate programme has nothing to do with either the core mission of a university or central government regulations; rather it’s my own institution creating rules and regulations in order to, in effect, make us appear better to the outside, and, cynically, to justify their own positions.

  • ajay

    The alternative implied explanation, that administrations that are ruthlessly penny-pinching in relation to academic functions just cannot help creating new managerial posts through some accountant’s version of Tourette’s Syndrome, doesn’t seem to me to hold much water.

    Not Tourette’s Syndrome: Parkinson’s Law…

  • mpowell

    I think this might be an inevitable phase in the institutions of higher education. The problem is that they make a ton of money but are still non profits. Lots of people need to step in and take their share. Of course, being a for profit enterprise is no protection against a proliferation of expensive upper level management but… Well, anyways, I’m not as concerned about the million dollar university presidents as the scores of 300K/year Chancellor’s with all of their attendant secretaries.

  • mpowell

    Dave: I don’t really understand your claim. Surely administrators can improve their own job security from redirecting dollars from academic functions towards hiring more management people. (After all the people doing the hiring are just putting a fatter pyramid under themselves.)

  • BigHank53

    Obligatory link to Administratium:


  • joejoejoe

    Lots of things associated with universities today have nothing to do with the learnin’. Acting as an R&D arms of private industry and running a professional sports franchise are two operations that have traditionally been filled with middle manager drones. The shrinking slice of the pie that is education gives Brand Name College it’s tax exempt status that allows university presidents to serve up a shit sandwich and call it steak.

  • Linnaeus

    We (meaning ASEs at my university) are in contract negotiations with the university and not surprisingly, we’re being asked to sacrifice because the university doesn’t have any money according to the university’s bargaining team.

    Of course, a lot of this money that the university doesn’t have has been going to pay for the growth in the administrative ranks of the institution, who will not be asked to give up anything.

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