The Chronicle discusses a new report: “Labor Intensive or Labor Expensive: Changing Staffing and Compensation Patterns in Higher Education”, detailing the rise of professional administrative positions in American higher education. This confirms what anecdotal evidence has been strongly suggesting: administration positions (hence, costs) have increased, dramatically, between 2000 and 2012:
the number of full-time faculty and staff members per professional or managerial administrator has declined 40 percent.
And the kicker: You can’t blame faculty salaries for the rise in tuition. Faculty salaries were “essentially flat” from 2000 to 2012, the report says. And “we didn’t see the savings that we would have expected from the shift to part-time faculty,” said Donna M. Desrochers, an author of the report.
And, happily, there’s more:
Howard J. Bunsis, a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University and chair of the American Association of University Professors’ Collective Bargaining Congress, wasn’t surprised by the conclusions of the study.
“You see it on every campus—an increase in administration and a decrease in full-time faculty, and an increase in the use of part-time faculty,” he said. With that trend, along with rising tuition and falling state support, “you’re painting a pretty fair picture of higher ed,” he continued. “It’s not what it should be. What’s broken in higher ed is the priorities, and it’s been broken for a long time.”
We have the same anecdotal stories at my institution. In yet another shrewd move designed to ensure I never get promoted here, I’ve begun to inquire about obtaining detailed numbers on the distribution of costs at my university. The question is whether or not the administrative bloat suggested by anecdote is empirically accurate, and if so, when did it start (more or less) and to what degree. I’m honestly not sure what I will find (assuming that the data, which in theory are public record, are easily acquired). On the one hand, since 2008 the anecdotal growth in deputy vice chancellors of this and plastic professors of that, is strong. Yet, as I’ve argued in the past, the commercialization of the British higher ed sector is at least a generation more advanced than the United States. As the trend in administrative bloat in the US has been measurably underway since 2000 (and really back to 1990), I shouldn’t find a distinct paradigm shift here at my institution in the past five years, but rather the continuation of a relentless trend. Yet, we have had a distinct shift in tone, and stated mission, from the administration since 2008.
This gets to the core of the question: just what the hell is a university for? I’m old school when I argue that the core — arguably only — mission of a university is the creation and dissemination of knowledge. Higher education is a public good and should be treated as such. Everything else ought to flow from that: knowledge transfer to the private sector, public comment and participation (which we used to call “outward facing” academics; I’ve no idea what the buzzword du jour is now), transforming lives, delivering sustained innovation and international impact, and through partnerships and collaborations enhance social inclusion, economic prosperity, and environmental quality in the region (and beyond!).
One bit of anecdote that I can speak to is that while upper management may have increased here in the past few years, front line administrative roles have been reduced in one of the annual purges of jobs that we’ve endured. One of the many differences between American and British higher ed is the lack of trust and autonomy that academic staff enjoy: all of our grading goes through an internal process known as “second marking”, where every fail, every mark over a 70 (roughly translated as an A), and a sample of every mark band in between (40s, 50s, and 60s) gets re-graded by a colleague. This happens for each and every assignment in each and every class we teach. Then, we send a similar sample off to our external moderator, an academic from a different university, who re-checks all this work and writes a report. The lack of front line administrative support has reached the point now where we — academic staff — are expected to do the photocopying of the external’s sample ourselves. This might not seem like a lot of work, but it does add up, and it’s perhaps not the best allocation of resources for the university.