Blogs > Liberty and Power > Administrative Growth at Academic Institutions

Feb 16, 2004 2:48 pm

Administrative Growth at Academic Institutions

In my post of February 8th I put forward the hypothesis that the average American university is carrying more administrators as a proportion of total employees now than it did in 1984, and that in turn it carried a higher proportion of administrators in 1984 than it had in 1964.

Steven Horwitz’ response (also 2/8) is largely congruent with the available data about administrative expansion where I work.

Steven mentions that over the last 15 years, at his institution, there have been no new administrative positions in Academic Affairs at the Associate Dean level or above. At Clemson there have been no additions since 9 colleges were consolidated into 5 in 1995–a reshuffling that cut the number of deans and compensated by increasing the number of associate deans—though there was expansion at the “Vice Provost” level during the decade before that. Of course, Clemson also retained some administrative positions that there was no longer a plausible need for, such as Dean of Graduate Studies or Associate Dean of Graduate Studies. The centralized Graduate Studies office was finally done away with this year, but the position called Dean of Graduate Studies will remain, albeit with a new job description.

Steven also mentions substantial growth in positions labeled “Director,” of this program or that, along with a proliferation of academic programs some of which seem little more than concessions to some senior faculty member’s vanity. Of course, not all of these directors would qualify as administrators by my definition, because some spend less than 50% of their time doing management. (All of them would contribute to the institution’s overall administrative expense, but the manner in which universities report their expenditures is going to require a whole series of posts. Suffice it to say that, at the present time, total administrative expense is not a reporting category at any university.)

At Clemson we have had a very mild expansion of purely academic program directors over the last 20 years. By far the more powerful force, at a university that pushes to maximize grant and contract funded research, has been the proliferation of Centers and Institutes. Some of these have a bunch of researchers working for them, others have just a skeleton staff, but each must have a full-time Director, and many of them carry Assistant Directors as well. What's more, even when some of the researchers at an Institute are paid out of"soft money"--meaning that if the grant is not renewed, their position goes away--this is not the way compensation is handled for Directors. A further incentive for proliferation is that Institutes usually belong to no college; their directors report to the Provost, whose span of control is thereby enhanced.

Steven cites two more growth areas:

However... there is no doubt that the overall presence of administrators on campus is much greater than in the past, when one includes the Student Life division, as well as Finance and Development. We've hired tons of new people in our"University Advancement" office in the last few years. One might argue these are"revenue-producing" expenditures, as private schools like mine depend greatly on alumni and external grant support. On the Student Life side, we have a much bigger (and more professional) staff than we used to. Are they all necessary? Good question. Students want more services (Counseling, Health Center, Career Services, Student Activities, etc), and co-curricular education is the buzzword these days. Competitive pressures are tough to resist.

Clemson has also acquired more fund-raising administrators over the past 20 years. (Assuming that the Legislature would provide, state universities rarely worked their alumni for contributions. Since the mid-1980s, they have all had to change their strategy.) But let’s look at what happened during the period of maximum administrative expansion at Clemson. The number of administrators doubled, from around 190 to around 380, during the regime of Max Lennon. President from 1986 to 1994, Lennon was somewhat unusual in that he had a conscious policy of expanding administration, and of favoring administrators over faculty. By my count, less than 10 of the added administrative positions were in fund-raising. (Over this same period of time, student enrollments rose 40% and genuine full-time faculty positions plateaued, around 950. Since 1995, enrollments are up a little more, the number of administrators has risen slightly–and the number of genuine faculty has fallen slightly).

That said, I don’t have any problem with hiring fund-raising administrators, so long as they bring in substantially more revenue yearly than is necessary to cover their salary and benefits plus the cost of their offices and staff. And provided, of course, that they don’t pull off anything crooked to get the money.

Student Affairs is another matter. So far as I can determine, it was the single biggest contributor to the great expansion of 1986-1994 at Clemson, and Steven’s experience suggests the same pattern where he is. In 1984, Clemson had one Dean of Students. By 1994, Clemson was carrying a Vice-President for Student Affairs (now at the same level as the Provost, and a rival for perks and influence), a Dean of Students, and a Dean of Student Life. At lower levels, there was a tremendous expansion of Student Services Program Directors. In 1996, some of the faculty at Clemson pushed for returning Student Affairs to the Provost’s jurisdiction, as it had been through the early 1980s. The President declined, on the grounds that Student Affairs represented... students!

The growth of Student Affairs bureaucracies has shifted a lot of institutional weight away from academics, and a substantial chunk of overall expenditure away from the classroom. Steven’s comments exemplify a widespread view that students and their families demand “amenities,” and colleges and universities must offer comparable amenities to remain competitive.

Of course, students and their families currently have no idea where their tuition and fee dollars are actually going. Yet tuition is now rising for everyone. It is rising especially sharply for in-state students at state universities, whose education used to be so heavily subsidized with tax money. In the present economic climate, there has to be room for institutions that offer fewer amenities and charge less tuition, while being able to guarantee that most of the tuition money will actually reach the classroom. Those who don’t want to give up the “amenities” would still be able to get them, from other institutions that charge accordingly.

I haven’t yet mentioned the key role of Student Affairs administrators, most places, in promulgating or enforcing illiberal policies. Suffice it to say that at Clemson, where undergraduates cannot major in Women’s Studies, future Student Affairs Counselors take Multicultural Counseling as a required course toward their Master’s degree. They get to go through the famous classroom exercises to identify who’s oppressed, and get taught descriptions of various collectivities that would be indignantly rejected as hasty and hateful stereotyping if anyone else were putting them forward.

As far as I can see, cutbacks in the Student Affairs bureaucracy would help to save money, restore priority to academics, and eliminate a major support structure for Political Correctness.

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Jonathan Dresner - 2/16/2004

Another area that has seen substantial administrative growth at institutions I'm familiar with is technology management. At one college, computer services were initially a suboffice of the library, when I was there the tail swallowed the dog, and the library became a coequal branch of Information/Technology Services, and the former head of computer services now outranked the library director. Distance learning often has its own directorship (especially at a land-grant institution with far-flung and rural constituencies), purely managerial (there's no curricular director for distance learning, that's departmental).