Phi Beta Cons

Another Reason to Rein in Bureaucrats

George Mason Law School Professor Todd Zywicki has shown that administrative bloat is not just a sign of bad fiscal management; its ever-expanding resources and power can also be obstacles to crucial policy reform. Zywicki’s quite urgent goal was to ensure that the policies on student speech at his public university come into compliance with the U.S. Constitution and earn the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s “green light” rating for observance of the First Amendment.

Neither high-level administrators, nor other professors demurred. Instead, the mid-level bureaucrats of the “University Life Office” were able to stop Zywicki, two other professors, a provost, and the president of the university—all of whom agreed that a change was needed—from fixing the restrictive speech codes. It has been five years, since he first attempted these reforms. 

Such programs are burgeoning all over the nation, often trumping key academic priorities in their claim on university resources. Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald provided a disturbing perspective on the University of California’s financial woes: “Even as UC campuses jettison entire degree programs and lose faculty to competing universities, one fiefdom has remained virtually sacrosanct: the diversity machine….Not only have diversity sinecures been protected from budget cuts, their numbers are actually growing.” At UC-Berkeley, for example, the Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion (a student-life role) oversees a staff of approximately 24, up from 17 in 2011.

As Zywicki makes clear, however, cost is only one face of the problem:

Though it establishes some of the most important academic policies of the university, [the University Life office] effectively operates autonomously, resistant to inputs from the academic side of the house, even from well-intentioned law professors who would like to see their school live up to the highest ideals of the Enlightenment.

The bureaucracies are growing in reach as well as size. At many institutions this is a grave danger to students’ rights and to effective governance. With too many moving parts to scrutinize, no responsibility for the overall health of the university, and a preference for placated, rather than educated students, university bureaucrats face incentives that favor bad policy.

It falls to governing boards protect students’ rights and pocketbooks and stem this disgraceful coup on issues of institutional policy.  

Alex McHughAlex McHugh is a research associate at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). He also coordinates ACTA¹s social media presence. He graduated from American University in 2014 with ...

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