More Press Coverage of the Impact of Administrative Costs at Universities

Happy New Year!

While we’ve all been resting, staff at the Wall Street Journal have been busy: on December 28th, reporters Douglas Belkin and Scott Thurm published their story on the growth of administrative costs at the University of Minnesota. Why Minnesota? Well, the University of Minnesota’s president Eric Kaler has declared his commitment to bringing down administrative costs there. But as Belkin and Thurm report, Kaler “hit a snag”: it wasn’t easy for him to gather the data he needed to analyze the money being spent on administering and managing the university. So Belkin and Thurm helped him out. They write:

The Journal, using payroll data provided by the university, calculated that across all of the system’s campuses, administrators consume 24% of the payroll, up from 20% in 2001. Employees who teach, such as professors, lecturers and instructors, account for 37% of the payroll, down from 39% in 2001, the Journal calculated.

They also note: 

Administrative employees make up an increasing share of the university’s higher-paid people. The school employs 353 people earning more than $200,000 a year. That is up 57% from the inflation-adjusted pay equivalent in 2001. Among this $200,000-plus group, 81 today have administrative titles, versus 39 in 2001.

They also provide the larger context: 

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, the U.S. Department of Education says. It’s part of the reason that tuition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has risen even faster than health-care costs.

And they report on specific action taken by President Kaler:

Among his efforts to economize, Dr. Kaler said he recently eliminated the office of academic administration after its head took a job elsewhere. He said the move will cut 5.5 full-time positions, including a senior vice president who earned $300,000-plus.

Read the full Journal article, “Deans List: Hiring Spree Fattens College Bureaucracy—and Tuition,” here.

The article is simply the latest in the growing coverage of the problem of administrative growth at universities in North America that includes “Bureaucrats Paid $250,00o Feed Outcry Over College Costs,” in Bloomberg last November. 

The Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal articles suggest that some business journalists are finally starting to take seriously the argument of political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg (Johns Hopkins) that the academy can only be saved if it rescues itself from a quarter-century of growth that has funded university administration at far greater rates of growth than it has funded its faculty. (Ginsberg’s book The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrativve University and Why It Matters was published by Oxford University Press in the summer of 2011, and Ginsberg’s, “Administrators Ate My Tuition,” appeared in the Washington Monthly last Fall.)

Will Boards of Governors in Canada start paying attention to this analysis? As it stands, as Ken Coates (Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan) and Ian Clark (School of Public Policy, University of Toronto) noted in a talk they gave at the University of Saskatchewan in October, Canada’s “university leaders” are listening to them, and their arguments are that faculty salaries and lack of faculty “productivity” are the problems to university bottom-lines in Canada. (A youtube video of Coates and Clark’s 19 October 2012 talk, previously given to VP Academics, is here.

Let’s hope university Boards will pay attention to the mainstream coverage — and letters to the editor such as Jay Conte’s, Mark Spooner’s, and Nicholas Tracy’s in the 27 December 2012 Globe and Mail. For two things are for sure: the likelihood that any of Canada’s university presidents will follow University of Minnesota’s Eric Kaler’s lead is low — and university Boards will not be hearing arguments such as Ginsberg’s, Belkin-Thurm’s, or Conte’s, Spooner’s, or Tracy’s from their senior administrators. 

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