Wednesday, December 20, 2017

More on modern university life

Universities are spending more and more money on administrative staff. Here is a post with references to more in depth material that puts some numbers to this process. Administration is eating up all the revenue and it is growing faster than any other part of the university. Three points of interest in the post: first, faculty positions have risen in line with student numbers (56% rise in students and 51% rise in faculty). The out of proportion rise lies with administrators and their staffs. It has exploded. Second, this trend is bigger in private universities than public ones. The post notes that this "looks to be the opposite of what we would expect if it were public mandates lying behind this [i.e. rise in bureaucrats, NH] trend. Third, this really is a new trend. Universities are changing. As The post notes: the "good old days" top admins tended to be more senior faculty with reasonably distinguished records who had been on campus for a long time and knew the people and the place. Now we have undistinguished professional managers...
I don't know about where you are, but this seems to pretty well sunup the state of play at those institutions that I am acquainted with (like my own).


  1. Just to make sure no one is fooled by the faculty increases, it's not tenure track positions that are growing but rather pretty awful and exploitative contingent positions

    1. Spot on Brooke. Seeing all those term positions on LinguistList makes my blood boil. It is cannibalism and exploitation. People are better off not taking such positions. If academia is not for them, they need to seek other options in life.

  2. The spirit of the conversation here is spot on, but there's a kind of important empirical point about spending categories: it's not quite right that administration 'is growing faster than any other part of the university'. The Delta Cost project gathers data on this: . And the cost of administration is rising absurdly fast. But the cost of 'student services' is rising even faster. And so is the cost of 'academic support', a monstrosity of a category that muddies the waters by running together some categories that are part of the core academic mission of the university (e.g. libraries) and some that are pretty clearly not (e.g. centralized teaching and learning offices, salaries of deanlets, etc.). Which is a long-winded way of saying that, yes, rent-seeking administrators are a big part of the cost disease in higher ed. But the ever-expanding corporate sprawl of the modern university (school, athletic club, entertainment complex, healthcare provider, advertising firm, and on and on…) wastes money and other resources in a multitude of ways that can't be reduced to just administrative bloat. And all of these ultimately have their roots in the elimination of direct public funding, and its replacement with implicit federal subsidies to prop up the student-debt-industrial complex. The subsidies, besides providing warped incentives for all of the activities listed above, are more expensive (and infinitely more wasteful) than simply funding public universities would be.