Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The case for independent scholarship #2: Administrative bloat

So, welcome back to installation #2 in The case for independent scholarship, the new series where I explain why you should quit assuming that scholarly research needs to be limited to the university system. In fact, independent scholarship provides a number of advantages over the standard model.

Today, we're going to focus on the administrative bloat that has overcome the university system. Specifically, I want to draw your attention to statistics on the California State University system. These data have been collected and written about by Ralph Westphal, a Professor in the Computer Information Systems Department at California Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Before I show you the statistics, though, I want you to ask yourself, how many administrators and other, non-academic professionals does a university need for each faculty member? What would be a reasonable ratio of academic to non-academic employees?

Clearly, there is a certain amount of support required to maintain facilities, to manage offices and accounts, and so on. But how many, would you say? Here are the numbers (from this document) for the entire California State University system for the 1975-76 academic year:

  • Faculty (all ranks): 18,406
  • Service and maintenance: 3,260
  • Skilled crafts: 883
  • Technical and paraprofessional: 3,246
  • Clerical and secretarial: 6,920
  • Managerial and professional: 3,800

So, what do you think? Does this seem reasonable? Roughly speaking, for every four faculty members, there are three non-faculty employees doing all of the jobs that keep the university running smoothly, and therefore allowing the faculty to pursue the fundamental goals of the university: teaching and research.

What about now? Well, if we fast forward thirty-some years to the most recent data provided in the same document, we find that, in the faculty increased to 23,581. That's a 28% increase in the size of the faculty. This goes along with a 54% increase in the number of full-time student equivalents (as per Westphal). Clearly, that means there are fewer teachers per student, but, you know, times are tough, budgets are crunched, and so on.

  • Faculty (all ranks): 23,581
  • Service and maintenance: 2,170
  • Skilled crafts: 1,045
  • Technical and paraprofessional: 3,105
  • Clerical and secretarial: 4,145
  • Managerial and professional: 12,183


The "skilled crafts" category has grown roughly in proportion to the number of faculty.

The "service and maintenance," "technical and paraprofessional," and "clerical and secretarial" categories have all actually shrunk in absolute numbers.

The big winner, of course, is "managerial and professional," which increased to 3.2 times its 1975-76 size.

So, what we see is a faculty that has failed to keep pace with the growth in the student population. We see support staff that not only has failed to keep up with the growth in faculty and students, but has actually been slashed. In contrast, the administrative ranks have become bloated beyond belief, to the point where there is nearly one "managerial" or "professional" employee for every two faculty members.

Westphal also points out that while the administration is willing to cut academic programs, there is little hope of reversing the administrative bloat. This is from the LA Times, quoting Cal Poly Pomona's Provost, Marten L. denBoer:
He said administrative functions will be reviewed and probably pared, but he rejects the argument that significant cuts can be made in that area. "The lights have to stay on, and someone has to maintain the computer system," he said. "These are people who work very hard and have to be properly compensated."
Note that the people who, say, keep the lights on, are not the problem.

Fundamentally, the problem is that people in administration see a valuable role for administrators, and devalue everything done by everyone else. So, when cuts have to be made, and you leave those cuts up to administrators, it is no surprise that administration is the last thing on the chopping block.

So, here's a question for you. If you are a donor, or a taxpayer, or a funding agency, why would you allow your resources to get eaten up by institutions that devote less and less of their effort to the research and teaching that you want to support?


  1. I would love to see a departmental breakdown of the M&P numbers from both sample years. Do you think the CSU board of trustees has seen such a breakdown? In my experience those people have no special love of administrators.

  2. "Fundamentally, the problem is that people in administration see a valuable role for administrators, and devalue everything done by everyone else."

    Isn't what you're doing here fundamentally the reverse? You're acting like administrators have no value and contribute nothing to teaching or research but this simply isn't the case.

    Meanwhile I'm not convinced that you're making a like-for-like comparison in the number of support staff since there has considerable change since 75/6, for example I'd assume a significant number of clerical and secretarial staff in 1976 were employed as typing pool.

  3. Jack, I did not intend to imply that administrators have _no_ value. While your point about the changes in the types of support staff needed between the seventies and today is valid, it is not at all obvious to me that there is an increased need for administrators relative to forty years ago. I think the question is, why is the set of administrators expanding?