The Coming Assault on Beadledom

by Thomas K. Lindsay

As the country searches for solutions to skyrocketing tuition costs and crushing student-loan debt, one factor has gone largely unnoticed — until now. In a Washington Monthly piece titled “Administrators Ate My Tuition,” Benjamin Ginsberg documents what we in the profession have sensed for some time: Adminstration has mushroomed at the expense of every other sector on campus. “Forty years ago,” writes Ginsberg, “U.S. colleges employed more faculty than administrators. But today, teachers make up less than half of college employees.”

“Administrators Ate My Tuition” presents the highlights from Ginsberg’s book, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters. The raw numbers contained therein tell the story. “Forty years ago . . . the efforts of 446,830 professors were supported by 268,952 administrators and staffers. Over the past four decades, though, as the number of full-time professors increased slightly more than 50 percent . . . the number of administrators and administrative staffers employed by those schools increased by an astonishing 85 percent and 240 percent, respectively.”

Although administration has burgeoned at both public and private institutions, the lion’s share of the growth has taken place in the latter. “Between 1975 and 2000, the number of administrators and managers employed by public institutions increased by 66 percent. During the same time period, though, the number of administrators employed by private colleges and universities grew by 135 percent.”

What do these increases in staff amount to in dollars? Adjusting for inflation, from 1947 to 1995, “overall university spending increased 148 percent. Administrative spending, though, increased by a whopping 235 percent. Instructional spending, by contrast, increased only 128 percent, 20 points less than the overall rate of spending increase.”

Ginsberg finds that senior administrators have done particularly well under the new regime. From 1998 to 2003, deans and vice presidents saw their salaries increase as much as 50 percent. “By 2007, the median salary paid to a president of a doctoral degreegranting institution was $325,000. Eighty-one presidents earned more than $500,000 and twelve earned over $1 million.” Surveying these increases, a Chronicle of Higher Education piece (Presidents Defend Their Pay as Public Colleges Slash Budgets) notes the difficulties that public university CEOs face when arguing that their “budgets have been cut to the bone . . . while at the same time acknowledging their rarified personal financial circumstances in states where layoffs, program closures, and pay reductions have been all too common.”

It’s unlikely to get less thorny for these presidents — or for any in the army of university administrators — any time soon. In a number of states, the legislature is bracing itself for the blow that Medicaid payments are projected to strike against the next budget. To address the shortfall in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn recently chose to raise taxes. It’s always possible that other states will not look to the Illinois model. In these states, then, cuts will soon be coming, some of which cannot help but come from the large higher-education portions of the various state budgets. But, as we’ve been reminded recently, budget-cutting is always a nasty affair. Accordingly, legislators are rarely eager to take the heat for cutting too deeply into teaching or student-aid budgets. But will any of them worry much over the political fallout caused by cutting administrative overhead? Not likely, in which case The Fall of the Faculty may soon become required reading in the nation’s statehouses.