Education and the “Administrative” Model

A question occurred to me the other day, and that was why, in some organizations, such as colleges and universities, once one becomes an administrator, salaries go way up, and real accountability appears to go down.  Even as a tenured full professor, my wife has to fill out an annual report on what she has accomplished, and how, and then face post-tenure review every few years.  I can’t see that any administrator faces that kind of scrutiny.

Now… I suppose that wouldn’t be so bad if I could only figure out what all those administrators do.  Over the time that she’s been at the university, the student body has essentially tripled, while faculty, including adjuncts [as full-time equivalents], has only grown a little more than fifty percent, yet the administrative positions have tripled, including more deans and vice-presidents. Despite all these new administrators, the administrative requirements placed on full-time faculty have continued to increase.  The salaries for clerical staff and faculty have not, on average, kept pace with inflation, but administrative salaries have soared. Although the university president’s salary has more than doubled, as I noted in a previous blog, the Board of Regents wants to increase it by more than 13% this year, while holding faculty salaries to a one percent increase and essentially negating that by the increases in health care costs paid by faculty and by increasing the health co-pay by 50% -100%.

I tend to find this whole thing disconcerting, because the faculty members are the ones doing the teaching [and at this university, teaching, not research, is what they’re paid for], while the administrators do… well… I have yet to figure out what about half of them do, except create more work by faculty by demanding more information and more reports, and by implementing new systems that are more often than not worse and more time-consuming, at least for faculty, than the previous system. I’m certain I’m misguided in this modern age, but I was under the impression that administrative systems are supposed to support the business at hand, not hamper it.

While I have a number of problems with professional athletics, in that field, there’s at least some recognition that you can’t field a team or win games without paying players what they’re worth [if sometimes way more than they’re worth].  In education, again, at least at state universities, the big salaries seem to go to administrators – and their close relatives, the business professors.  Then come the high-profile professors, whether they’re good teachers or not.  In the middle are the tenure and tenure-track professors, and near the bottom of the full-time pile are the clerical and low-level administrative aides.  At the very bottom are adjunct instructors and teaching assistants, who now comprise over 50% of the teaching faculty at most universities.

In major league sports, even the lowest paid journeymen get a living wage, and the players outnumber the administrators. Not so in academia… which just might have a bit to do with the increasing costs of higher education.

6 thoughts on “Education and the “Administrative” Model”

  1. AndrewV says:

    I totally agree with you. If we cut half the administration away at universities nobody would notice anything except the tuition going down.

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    I’m guessing that with public institutions especially, there would be a lot of cronyism involved in the high salary and low usefulness positions.

  3. Steve says:

    A cynic might say that the administrator justifies his salary by increasing student volumes by 300% while increasing faculty by only 50% and holding faculty salaries down. In essence the administrator is paid to keep the faculty from doing something about working harder for less pay. It seems from your report above that administration is doing their job.

  4. Except that, since they’re paid so much more, and there are so many of them, there’s no cost savings.

  5. Alan says:

    My only observation on the matter is that it is not a problem restricted to solely the field of education. It is true in most areas of life. Practically any government program you can name (Healthcare, DoD, DoE, education, etc) to private industry and the public sector as well.

    Just in my short life we have drastically increased the amount of paperwork and administration involved in all but the most basic of tasks. For no apparent improvement in services or value of the service quality.

    I believe much of what ‘grows’ in companies (public or private), government run systems and education too, springs out of changes in the laws. Federal and state law makers add rules and regulations frequently, while rarely reducing them. Added to this is a company’s desire to ‘improve’ their own processes.

    I honestly believe we could do without most of the administration which surrounds so much of our lives.

    1. Tim says:

      Alan is spot on. One reason for the proliferation of administration in the corporate world is the need to record so much in case of legislation. The US courts in particular seem prone to giving large awards if any fault is found with a company’s practices. This usually means there no evidence that someone had not been briefed properly or that certain procedures had not been fully rolled out across the workforce, etc.

      However that is unlikely to apply in Academia.

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