September/October 2011 Administrators Ate My Tuition

Want to get college costs in line? Start by cutting the overgrown management ranks.

By Benjamin Ginsberg

Photo: Mario Lalich

No statistic about higher education commands more attention—and anxiety—among members of the public than the rising price of admission. Since 1980, inflation- adjusted tuition at public universities has tripled; at private universities it has more than doubled. Compared to all other goods and services in the American economy, including medical care, only “cigarettes and other tobacco products” have seen prices rise faster than the cost of going to college. And for all that, parents who sign away ever-larger tuition checks can be forgiven for doubting whether universities are spending those additional funds in ways that make their kids’ educations better—to say nothing of three times better.

Between 1975 and 2005, total spending by American higher educational institutions, stated in constant dollars, tripled, to more than $325 billion per year. Over the same period, the faculty-to-student ratio has remained fairly constant, at approximately fifteen or sixteen students per instructor. One thing that has changed, dramatically, is the administrator-per-student ratio. In 1975, colleges employed one administrator for every eighty-four students and one professional staffer—admissions officers, information technology specialists, and the like—for every fifty students. By 2005, the administrator-to-student ratio had dropped to one administrator for every sixty-eight students while the ratio of professional staffers had dropped to one for every twenty-one students.

Apparently, as colleges and universities have had more money to spend, they have not chosen to spend it on expanding their instructional resources—that is, on paying faculty. They have chosen, instead, to enhance their administrative and staff resources. A comprehensive study published by the Delta Cost Project in 2010 reported that between 1998 and 2008, America’s private colleges increased spending on instruction by 22 percent while increasing spending on administration and staff support by 36 percent. Parents who wonder why college tuition is so high and why it increases so much each year may be less than pleased to learn that their sons and daughters will have an opportunity to interact with more administrators and staffers— but not more professors. Well, you can’t have everything.

Of course, universities have always employed administrators. When I was a graduate student in the 1960s and a young professor in the 1970s, however, top administrators were generally drawn from the faculty, and even midlevel managerial tasks were directed by faculty members. These moonlighting academics typically occupied administrative slots on a part-time or temporary basis and planned in due course to return to full-time teaching and research. Whatever their individual faults and gifts, faculty administrators seldom had to be reminded that the purpose of a university was the promotion of education and research, and their own short-term managerial endeavors tended not to distract them from their long-term academic commitments.

Alas, today’s full-time professional administrators tend to view management as an end in and of itself. Most have no faculty experience, and even those who have spent time in a classroom or laboratory often hope to make administration their life’s work and have no plan to return to teaching. For many of these career managers, promoting teaching and research is less important than expanding their own administrative domains. Under their supervision, the means have become the end.

Every year, hosts of administrators and staffers are added to college and university payrolls, even as schools claim to be battling budget crises that are forcing them to reduce the size of their full-time faculties. As a result, universities are now filled with armies of functionaries—vice presidents, associate vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, provosts, associate provosts, vice provosts, assistant provosts, deans, deanlets, and deanlings, all of whom command staffers and assistants—who, more and more, direct the operations of every school. If there is any hope of getting higher education costs in line, and improving its quality—and I think there is, though the hour is late—it begins with taking a pair of shears to the overgrown administrative bureaucracy.

Forty years ago, America’s colleges employed more professors than administrators. The efforts of 446,830 professors were supported by 268,952 administrators and staffers. Over the past four decades, though, the number of full-time professors or “full-time equivalents”—that is, slots filled by two or more part-time faculty members whose combined hours equal those of a full-timer—increased slightly more than 50 percent. That percentage is comparable to the growth in student enrollments during the same time period. But the number of administrators and administrative staffers employed by those schools increased by an astonishing 85 percent and 240 percent, respectively.

Today, administrators and staffers safely outnumber full-time faculty members on campus. In 2005, colleges and universities employed more than 675,000 fulltime faculty members or full-time equivalents. In the same year, America’s colleges and universities employed more than 190,000 individuals classified by the federal government as “executive, administrative and managerial employees.” Another 566,405 college and university employees were classified as “other professional.” This category includes IT specialists, counselors, auditors, accountants, admissions officers, development officers, alumni relations officials, human resources staffers, editors and writers for school publications, attorneys, and a slew of others. These “other professionals” are not administrators, but they work for the administration and serve as its arms, legs, eyes, ears, and mouthpieces.

Before they employed an army of professional staffers, administrators were forced to rely on the cooperation of the faculty to carry out tasks ranging from admissions to planning. An administration that lost the confidence of the faculty might find itself unable to function. Today, ranks of staffers form a bulwark of administrative power in the contemporary university. These administrative staffers do not work for or, in many cases, even share information with the faculty. They help make the administration, in the language of political science, “relatively autonomous,” marginalizing the faculty.

While some administrative posts continue to be held by senior professors on a part-time basis, their ranks are gradually dwindling as their jobs are taken over by fulltime managers. College administrations frequently tout the fiscal advantages of using part-time, “adjunct” faculty to teach courses. They fail, however, to apply the same logic to their own ranks. Over the past thirty years, the percentage of faculty members who are hired on a part-time basis has increased so dramatically that today almost half of the nation’s professors work only part-time. And yet the percentage of administrators who are part-time employees has fallen during the same time period.

Benjamin Ginsberg is a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. This article is adapted with permission from The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, by Benjamin Ginsberg, published by Oxford University Press, 2011.


  • DRF on August 29, 2011 1:54 PM:

    Color me unconvinced. Ginsberg argues that colleges and universities employ too many administrators by comparing current rates to those in effect in 1947 and 1975. His assumption, unproven, is that 35 or more years ago, schools were adequately staffed. However, whatever one may think of the trend, the fact is that today schools are much more actively involved in supporting and monitoring student consumers than back then. There were few, if any, learning disability or other departments providing academic support to students. Today, there are administrators charged with responsibility regarding student life, there are larger financial aid and foreign study administrators, more career guidance and post-school employment support services offered, and, yes, more staffing for fund raising, as well as alumni relations. The view as to what services the school should be providing has expanded and, in most cases, appropriately so.

    Ginsberg yearns for the good old days when faculty performed many of these services. Do we really want to go back there? Academic faculty are notoriously bad administrators. Just as professional administrators are hired to run hospitals, so too do colleges hire professionals, not amateurs drawn from the faculty, to administer multi-million dollar service departments.

    Undoubtedly, there is waste, corruption and inefficiency that can be found. Ginsberg selectively cites some of the more egregious recent examples of excessive compensation, ineffective financial oversight and wastefulness, but this anecdotal evidence doesn't prove a case.

    And, by the way, a strategic review and determination of a strategic mission is a useful governance tool for colleges and universities, as it is for any institution. This sort of periodic review of what the school is doing well and doing badly, and what it should or could be doing to be a better institution, is extraordinarily useful, if not essential, for a school to remain an exciting, relevant academic center. Having recently heard the recently-appointed President of my alma mater speak in a very specific manner about his goals, fashioned after such a review, I believe Ginsberg is just wrong to be dismissive of such exercises.

  • rationalrevolution on August 29, 2011 3:14 PM:

    Two things here.

    #1) I think there is some over blowing of the issue. It is undoubtedly true that administrative costs have risen faster than faculty costs, but this is also to be expected I would think.

    #2) There are however real problems with university administration.

    I think one of the fundamental problems is that these institutions are non-profit organizations that are providing a "product" for which demand is inelastic, which means that prices CAN go up substantially and people will continue to pay.

    So colleges can raise prices and generate more revenue, so they do, but they have little real need for it and don't really know what to do with it, and there are no share holders siphoning off profits from the top, so there is nothing to do except waste it essentially. (Note here that I'm saying saying before for-profit would help, only that it would result in leaner administrative staffs).

    On top of that there is anther phenomenon at work, which is the value premium placed on education based on price, that is, people (the consumers in this case, students and parents) place greater value on a degree from a college that costs more, so the more that colleges charge the more that the consumers value the education, so in a sense higher prices DRIVE demand, they don't reduce demand, as would normally be the case.

    So what happens is that as colleges raise their tuition they actually get MORE applicants, not less. Its the diamond effect. Diamonds aren't really rare and they aren't expensive to produce, but a diamond monopoly and hoarding allows the prices to be driven artificially high, which in turn just increases demand for them. If the price of diamonds were to drop to say $10 a karat, demand would vanish and no one would want them, except industrial drill makers.

    This price inflation is sustained in regard to colleges by a combination of government subsidy and consumer debt, by both parents and students.

    The college staffers, both teachers and administrators, are simply the beneficiaries of this quirk of human psychology, basically getting grossly over-paid for doing little. It's like someone selling placebos for $5 each and doing poorly, while another guy sells the exact same placebos and works no harder at all, but charging $1,000 each and selling millions and getting rich, just because he charges more.

    So that's what's going on here I believe.

    The only way to resolve this issue is to regulate prices, which is exactly what the government should be doing. It's a perfect example demonstrating why markets don't always work in the real world. Human psychology is flawed, people aren't rational resource allocators, and people aren't more irrational about anything than sex and their children futures, the two things that we have been programmed by evolution to place the most value on (as they are both related basically, one leads to the other, and the latter is step toward guaranteeing that your offspring continue the process).

    College tuition should be regulated, period. Markets don't work for everything, not the least of is non-profit institutions providing a product with highly inelastic demand, about which decisions are driven almost purely by paternal emotion.

  • Jennifer Wood on August 29, 2011 3:36 PM:

    I have to say in large part that I agree with the author's assessment of the current situation as regards the purely managerial-administrative segment of the university community. In particular I find it disturbing that, as he notes, upper administration has come more & more to believe that they are not only independent of, but actually more important than, the faculty (or students). Where I think he goes to far however is in the line drawn between both administrative AND professional staff on the one hand, and teaching faculty on the other. In my experience there are many professional staff members, in particular library/museum and technology professionals, who are involved in very significant ways on a daily basis with academic functions such as scholarly research, assisting students directly with their studies, and even actual teaching. In addition, a great many of these academic professionals identify far more with the goals and priorities of faculty than they do with those of administration. And few of these para-academic staff members draw anywhere near the bloated salaries common among purely managerial administrators.

  • elisabeth on August 29, 2011 4:25 PM:

    Yes, I agree with Jennifer Wood, above, that the article treats too many oranges as apples. Upper-level administrators account for most of the author's anecdotes, but why universities need many more lower-level IT staff, for instance, isn't really addressed. There may well be -- as there is in many other US institutions, from government to banking -- too many highly paid upper-level workers. But to then argue that the lower-level workers aren't doing real and needed work is not persuasive. At the University where I worked, faculty members became more and more unwilling to do advising work -- oh, they liked advising honors students about where to go to graduate school, but most had no interest in helping the average undergraduate choose classes and prepare to look for a job after graduation. Professional advising staff was a good use of tuition funds.
    And, while I would be happy to see all of "big athletics" go away, the administrative workers associated with athletics are alas, quite necessary to keep that function of the university going.
    Students and parents both want not just faculty interaction and good teaching, they expect and actually appreciate many other campus workers, from those in the dining rooms of the residence halls to those in the writing lab.

  • jules on August 29, 2011 6:55 PM:

    I've never met a faculty member who sought or enjoyed administrative work, or frankly even had time for it. The demands of research and teaching on today's faculty are extreme. Funding is harder to come by than ever; who has time to negotiate contracts with external vendors, ensure that salaries are correctly encumbered in the budget, or coddle an anxious 18 year old and her parents through the financial aid process? Because all these things have to be done by someone, but none of it would help a tenure review case very much. Gisberg knows this, yet without any support whatsoever for his claim, simply says that the reason administrative work is cumbersome to faculty is because of the existing administrators. What kind of odd logic is that?

    Of course Ginsberg is right that there are too many ridiculous meetings at the highest levels. And of course he is right that every administrator is not pulling his weight in proportion to his salary. I'm all for reform that will address these things. But Ginsberg's vision of a utopia where faculty takes on the bulk of the day-to-day operations of campus is not only naive, the faculty would revolt within hours if administration was stripped down to its bare bones. They don't have enough time in their day as it is.

  • DrTalc on August 30, 2011 12:33 PM:

    It's sad to see so many comments in favor of administrative bloat. At the community college where I've worked for more than 20 years the changes Ginsburg writes about ring true. We have approximately 1,000 full-time employees of which 384 are faculty. That's right two-thirds of our employees don't teach! At a community college - that's just crazy. And those numbers no longer include the housekeeping staff - they've been outsourced. Where just a couple of years ago you could work in housekeeping full-time with a paid vacation, retirement, and health insurance - no more. The new crew are all part-time, no benefits, making $7.25 per hour. So, the kindly dining hall worker mentioned above probably doesn't work for the college any more as a major trend not mentioned in the article is too outsource your non-core functions - housekeeping, dining halls, grounds keeping, even IT and counseling.

  • Liz on August 30, 2011 1:44 PM:

    As a university employee whose salary is paid by research grant money, I'm curious as to how research personnel are treated in the calculations of administrator-to-student and staff-to-student ratios. It seems to me that only non-research administrators and staff (or non-research portions of FTEs) should be included in the calculations -- is that the case?

  • Charles Schwartz on August 30, 2011 5:35 PM:

    I have done some studies on my own University of California and found data showing how Management(not just nonacademic staff) has grown disproportionately over the last two decades. You can see the data in the March 28 posting at http://UniversityProbe.org

  • Patrick Lagua on September 01, 2011 3:54 PM:

    Ginsberg overgenaralizes A LOT in this article. The target of most of his (well-deserved, perhaps?) wrath seems to be upper-upper management (Deans, and as he calls it "Deanlets"...wow how clever of you sir), and perhaps they do deserve some censure or restraint. Certainly the examples of corruption he points out needs scrutiny and prosecution. I also agree with his point that there isn't a need for ridiculous, patently obvious administrative fat such as the 'Council For Traditions'...(what would such a Council even do?). But despite these, I have some concerns:

    1. Ginsberg only talks about a 'staff to student' ratio, but I think this severely misconstrues what University administrative staff do, who they service, and what that ratio might look like, if more accurately calculated. Students ARE not the only population group supported by administrative staff, nor is the University only populated by faculty and students. Post-Docts, Medical professionals, non-teaching faculty, service personnel (such as individuals who staff University affiliated offices which may not be directly related to teaching and/or research such as the UM's Family Evaluation Clinic), not to mention all the staff that make the University run behind the scenes (janitors, librarians, the lab techs who fill pippettes, residence hall staff, the cafeteria crew at said residence halls). I wonder then, what his ratio would look like, had he taken this reality into account. His ratio ignores the fact that the University population is more than just faculty/student/staff.

    2. I wonder what would happen if we were to publish a paper scrutunizing the unneeeded faculty fat in University campuses. Surely, it isn't difficult to imagine some tenured faculty member who has long since stopped being active academically and have settled on receiving mediocre teaching evalutions after achieving the heights of academic success. My point here is not to play a game of 'ya you suck, NO YOU SUCK', but rather to point out that in all professions, certainly professions represented in the University, there will be those who are productive and contribute substantially, and there will be those who will simply ride on the coat-tails of others and not put in their fair share. It seems problematic to paint administrators in the latter kind of paint as a whole. And I dare you Doctor Ginsberg, I DARE YOU, to claim that faculty members HAVE NEVER picked a rosy location for an academic conference. I DARE YOU.

    On a related note, Ginsberg should be more careful about differentiating neccessary and unnecessary administrators, and dare I say it, good AND bad types of administrative bodies. A 'Council of Traditions'? Ya, let's trim that fat. But I think Ginsberg would be hard pressed to find a faculty member who would advocate getting rid of the person who keeps track of their books and whether or not flying one airline instead of another might lead to her university losing out on millions of Federal funding because the funding agency REQUIRES one to fly American owned airlines during academic business trips.

    3. I am skeptical of Ginsbeg picture of 'faculty as administrator' idea. Sure, perhaps in those areas of administratative matters that ARE directly related to research and teaching (i.e. what courses are missing in our offerings? How can we help our Junior faculty members secure funding? What ares of reserach should our department concentrate on? How can we help improve teaching practices?), faculty members are well-suited for the task. I would even go so far as to say THEY SHOULD be taking on those tasks, as many faculty members do in my own institution. BUT, I think it would be a severe disservice to the University AND the faculty member if we were to force them to shoulder not only the laborious and time-consuming work of producing good science, good teaching AND the administrative minutia that comes with securing researc

  • Patrick Lagua on September 01, 2011 4:10 PM:

    ..and one other thing. While upper-upper management do get paid a lot of money (maybe they should be paid less, I'm not sure, such decisions are far above MY pay grade)...but your run of the mill administrator (adjusting for their particular institutions)get paid WAY LESS than faculty members. I'm also not privy about how University budgets as a whole are constructed, BUT, I wonder just how much of tuition monies really go into administrative salaries. At least, in my own institutional location, there is such a thing as an indirect cost rate, which btws Doctor Ginsberg, pays for a percentege of University overhead costs. (that would be power, the cleaning, the plumbing, the paper, the pens, and oh yes, the administrative staff). Perhaps this should be also taken into account.

  • JJ on September 02, 2011 5:27 AM:

    This article is great! Right on the money, so to speak. I do, however, wish it were more frank regarding adjuncts. The low cost of adjunct labor subsidizes the enormous administrative salaries at many if not most colleges and universities.

    If you don't know, an adjunct is a professor hired on a course-by-course basis. Adjuncts can be graduate students, retired professors, or just underemployed PhDs. They can also be people from the private sector who teach a course on the side. Most adjuncts I know are underemployed PhDs who want full-time, tenure-track jobs and who only take adjunct work in hopes of staying in academia until that kind of job appears for them. Most will never get tenure-track jobs though, as about half of all professors (and that figure is growing) are temporary or part-time.

    When I (a Ph.D.) was working as an adjunct, I made $2000 per course. I was paid well compared to most adjuncts. I could only find 2 available courses to teach.

    I by no means had a perfect formula, but I decided to figure out how much each of my student's tuition monies went towards my pay. I came up with $65 per student, which was probably a generous figure. (Each student paid $45,000 in tuition and took about 4 classes a semester.) I think their parents would be rather upset to learn that only $65 of the $45,000 went to pay one professor for an entire semester. Some of those students had 2 or 3 adjunct professors. You do the math.

    It's safe to say that if colleges and universities overwhelmingly rely on adjunct professors who make less than McDonald's employees, then parents and students are getting ripped off.

    Their tuition payments are certainly keeping administrators and administrative staffers well paid while doing little for the instruction that students are in college to get. All the money that doesn't go towards professors' pay goes somewhere. Given how much administrators make and how many administrative staffers there are, it seems silly to think it's not going to them.

    Did making so little money affect my job performance? Yes. I missed a week of class once due to being hospitalized for stress and exhaustion. Working 40-50/week for a grand total of $4000 over four months (I could only find two courses to teach), working extra jobs on top of that to cover my rent and to buy my health insurance, and taking other extra jobs to cover my student loans nearly killed me.

    My mother begged me to quit the extra jobs and go on welfare to ease my burden, but I refused.

    You can also imagine my mother's sense of shame. You think putting a child through college is expensive? How about all the years my mother spent watching me get a PhD only to see me become a professor who makes so little money that she thinks I need to go on welfare? It broke her heart.

    Imagine sending your child to medical school, only to find that physician has suddenly become a lower-status (if judged by pay) profession than McDonald's cashier. I was trained to become a professor and I did everything that I was supposed to in order to become one. And, if teaching counts, I did become one. But I could only use my training for a short time before having to find a job beneath my skill level that paid me enough to live on. There's no amount of money to compensate for that much parental disappointment.

    Had I gone on welfare, then the tax payers and the government would have been subsidizing the poor pay that I received. And, some might argue, the tax payers and the government then would have been subsidizing the 6-figure salaries of the countless vice-presidents at my college, in addition to all the academic staffers. Many adjuncts couldn't teach without welfare.

    Adjuncts (those who aren't teaching on the side and who were trained to become professors) are also often subsidized by spouses and/or parents. In other words, someone else makes up for what th

  • gelfling545 on September 02, 2011 8:26 AM:

    A similar problem exists in the lower levels of education as witnessed by the laying off of 1/3 of classroom teachers a few years back in my city while simultaneously hiring 2 new assistant directors of personnel, presumable it takes more directors to handle fewer personnel. Who new? When our soon to be former School Superintendent was described in our local paper has having a highly paid ""entourage". It wasn't far off the mark. When people talk about the high costs of education they seem to assume that this cost all goes to pay teachers. No one even thinks about administration, particularly those in central office to whom students are statistics and the taxpayers don't know exist.

  • petrova on September 02, 2011 3:52 PM:

    What you said. I am the lowest on the faculty totem pole (adjunct) and haven't got a raise (at all) in 10 years (and it was lamentable pay back then). I get no benefits, no sick pay, no vacation. I get paid by the section, and if a section I've spent a month preparing to teach gets cancelled, I don't get a penny for it.
    The full-time faculty get a better deal, but at my school, their salaries and benefits have been frozen for years.

    However, in my program, there is a "director" and five "assistant directors," each of whom make as much as an assistant professor as well as a complete benefit package. None of us can figure out what they do that a good secretary-- ONE good secretary -- could do. They schedule. They answer email. I presume they're supposed to plan ahead and/or make reports or do research, but they don't do any of that. None of these positions existed when I started ten years ago, saving the director, who was then a faculty member who took this on a part-time (released from one section of teaching) position. These six administrators' salary and benefits account for more than 50% of the annual budget of my program, that is, far more than the combined wages of everyone, full and part-time, who actually teaches.

    There is no secretary. We all perform our own secretarial functions (typing, copying, mailing, travel planning).

    If in fact the 6 administrators had enough to do, I might not be so annoyed. But we're doing double-time, really, for half the "real dollar" pay we used to get, and no security at all. And they're pretty much splitting one secretary's tasks five ways, for perhaps a total of ten times her wages.

    I've worked at four universities (we all work at multiple places to get anywhere close to a liveable wage), and it's this way in every program-- the cost of administration dwarfs the cost of teaching, and to no discernible benefit.

    Sorry, very cynical this week, as I've been told it doesn't matter how much I work, I can't claim more than ten hours a class section, which puts my income at just south of minimum wage. Yes. I'd make more at McDonalds, and there have to deal with only one boss. Do you want fries with that?

  • Chris on September 05, 2011 4:36 PM:

    The administrative sock puppets have plenty of time to read this article, while faculty are actually busy doing work, that is why there is a pro-administration tilt to the comments

  • reidmc on September 05, 2011 7:19 PM:

    Nice polemic.

    Lots of collateral damage though, and no analysis that distinguishes among the radical differences in missions, educational formats, funding mechanisms and various challenges based on organizational type (R1 university, small liberal arts school, community colleges, state colleges, public; private etc.)

    And the author needs to have a better plan than fire a bunch of administrators and let the trustees and faculty fill the gap. When faculty take on admin work, they drop courses, which are typically picked up by adjuncts. If they go full-time admin, they are added to the admin head count. Not exactly sure how this helps, unless, of course, Dr.Ginsburg makes all the appointments personally ;-)

  • RN on September 05, 2011 10:30 PM:

    I have been in university administrative meetings in which a cost-cutting proposal was shot down summarily... on what grounds? on the grounds that it would make the mission of the university harder to achieve? on the grounds that it would make the lives of our students worse? on the grounds that it would degrade the quality of the teaching or research at the university? No, none of these. It was shot down summarily on no other grounds than that it would cost render unnecessary lots of administrative positions. I have seen this happen at many meetings, and heard of it happening at many others, and in each case with which I'm acquainted, no mention was made of the consequences for our university's ability to serve its students well, and at a reasonable price.

    Of course, anecdotal evidence by itself proves nothing. But I wonder how many other university employees have similar anecdotes.

  • Tim on September 06, 2011 11:43 AM:


    The point of the article is that there is no administration "gap" to fill. Most administrative tasks are useless, and can just be eliminated entirely. No one needs to do another strategic plan, or to re-assess the previous assessment. Universities are for researching and teaching. They are not supposed to be a self-perpetuating breeding ground for people who want to pretend they're in the corporate world.

    When's the last time you saw a student? If you can't answer this question, and aren't involved in fundraising or diversity, your position can probably be eliminated without leaving any "gap."

  • reidmc on September 06, 2011 12:31 PM:

    @Tim: I would re-read the author's last paragraph, and then realistically project the consequences.

    My only real point here is that the article is subjective and polemical. I don't have a problem with that, as this sort of writing has its value. But it basically reads as yet another "professor complains about the number of administrators on campus and their salaries" article, without any added value. And note that Dr Ginsberg could solve this problem for himself by dumping overstaffed, private Hopkins for a nice, small cash-strapped liberal arts school or rural community college.

  • Zehou on September 06, 2011 1:02 PM:

    I feel the temptation (as a faculty member) to advocate hiring folks who can do the sorts of things that need doing but which one doesn't need a PhD, an active research program, and areas of teaching specialization and competence in order to do. And there are a lot of such things worth doing, it seems to me. Administrative bloat often grows out of good intentions--recognition of real problems, where faculty members are often the ones doing the recognizing.

    Now, I think I could do most of the work involved in addressing the real problems (though definitely not all of the work) pretty well. Academics are generally very smart and very capable, and we're used to working long hours thinking about complex problems. (You have to have a bit of an addictive, workaholic personality to be a good researcher, I tell my students.) But taking on these "good idea" administrative tasks . . . would take me away from teaching and research. So I sometimes find myself wanting to propose more administrative hires.

    This all sounds good in theory, but in practice it's just been a disaster, at least at my university. We hire an administrator to help address problem X. He or she pushes through a program for addressing problem X that, as it turns out, relies mainly on faculty taking on more work (more paperwork, more meetings and appointments, more policies to write, etc.). The administrators who succeed in getting faculty to do this extra work, but not for any additional pay and not for a reduction in teaching load or research expectations, are then rewarded with salary increases. But of course the new administrators are also responsible for keeping track of all this new work assigned to faculty, so they also have to get faculty involved in recording and measuring and reporting on their new activities. And the administrators have to justify their presence, of course, so they do so in part by proposing to address alleged problems Y and Z, which arguably aren't problems at all, or they devise means of addressing them that are downright bizarre in how far they stray from the idea that a university is first and foremost a place for education and research.

  • Tim on September 06, 2011 1:14 PM:


    It's definitely polemical, but most of the data he cites speaks for itself. And he's not just complaining about administrators' numbers and salaries, but the pointlessness of a lot of the work they do.

  • Annie on September 06, 2011 5:17 PM:

    One thing missing from this article is the needs of the students. In the same period the author references, there has been a dramatic downshift in preparedness. Students show up on campus unprepared to take care of their daily business, to interact effectively with their peers, to make decisions about their academic or social needs. A significant role of these additional staff stems from filling in the gaps that aren't dealt with by parents before students arrive on campus.

    Related to that is the increase in expectations of students and parents related to the product they are purchasing. College is no longer merely an academic pursuit. Students expect private living arrangements, one-on-one contact with staff and faculty, and a range of services that were previously not part of what a university would provide.

    If you want to cut back on administrative bloat, then it needs to start with better preparing students to be adults when they enter college, instead of expecting college to be the place that makes them adults.

  • Greg on September 07, 2011 9:20 PM:

    If Mr. Ginsburg honestly believes that tenured faculty, with no incentive to perform, made better part-time administrators than full-time, lower-paid professionals, he sure made a lousy case for it.

    I agree that the cost structure of higher ed is broken, but blaming tuition inflation on administrators, rather than the obscene movement to treat students as "consumers" completely misses the real causation.

    If you don't have the $5million overhaul to your food court, or your dorm furniture is shabby, or you don't have 500 channels of cable TV in every room, if you don't have shiny new brochures, the best performing arts center, perfectly manicured lawns, full medical/counseling services, etc... you risk falling behind the recruiting curve of your peer institutions.

    Colleges cost more because students and parents demanded the amenities and services that make it more expensive. The best illustration of this is the difference in fringe benefits between a typical community college and a typical 4 year school. Check it out sometime.

    The fact is that Buffy and Billy (and their parents) want their hands held during college and colleges have only met that need.

  • Jennifer Wong on September 10, 2011 5:50 PM:

    At my college we have so pared down faculty numbers and power, while increasing various administrative and staff positions, that full-time faculty are overwhelmed with committee work, teaching and advising loads, and demands to publish, which makes them all the more easy marks for administration to herd and bully (part-time faculty have always felt that way). For example, I recall a senior faculty member being rather dressed down by a twenty-something staff person, who I don't even think had a degree beyond high school, because the faculty member, who has long served in a number of professional organizations, did not turn in some paperwork on time. The PhD faculty have come to amount to little more than staff themselvs and with less power than the lowliest administrative assistant. It's amazing that this has come to pass actually, all while the public and pundits have their eyes trained on the "lazy," overly indulged professors running amok on all the campuses (so goes the popular image). Too bad Ginsberg isn't required reading everywhere.

    As each new administration comes and goes every five to ten years, the vision of an educational mission seems to keep getting dimmer and dimmer with each new wave of management. At a certain point the principles of bureacracy seem to dominate geometrically: One is defined by the breadth and quantity of one's responsiblities, budget, and underlings, and the pursuit of that end creates a hotbed for cronyism as each new adminstration weeds out those who do not share its vision and put in place those who do. This just goes on and on. The number of full-time faculty shrinks and the number of itinerant part-time faculty expands because part-timers have no power or say whatsoever.

    I agree with Ginsberg: I do not see that the aims of higher education could be served by this manner of institutional bureaucratic self-selection.

  • Milan Moravec on September 21, 2011 9:11 PM:

    Wage concessions from Faculty, Chancellors at the University of California can arrest tuition increases. I love University of California (UC) having been a student and lecturer. But today I am concerned that at times I do not recognize the UC I love. Like so many Alumni, Donors, Legislators, and Californians I am deeply disappointed by the pervasive failures of UC senior management and Regents.
    Californians suffers from 19% unemployment (includes those working part time, and those no longer searching), mortgage defaults, loss of unemployment benefits. And those who still have jobs are working longer for less. Chancellor/Faculty wages must reflect California's ability to pay, not what others are paid.
    However we also understand that there need to be reasonable limits that reflect economic realities. UC Berkeley (Cal) planned pay raises for generously paid Faculty is arrogance.
    UC Berkeley (ranked # 70 Forbes) tuition increases exceed national average rate of increase. Chancellor Birgeneau’s leadership molds Cal into the most expensive public university in the USA.
    Can we do better with a spirit of shared sacrifices by UC Faculty, Provosts, and Chancellors?
    (17,000 earn more than $100,000)
    No furloughs.
    18 percent decrease UCOP salaries, $50 million budget cut.
    18 percent prune chancellors' salaries.
    15 percent trim tenured faculty salaries, increase teaching.
    10 percent non-tenured faculty pay decrease, increase research, teaching.
    100% elimination of Academic Senate, Academic Council budgets.

    There is no question the necessary realignments with economic reality are painful.

    UC Board of Regents Chair Sherry Lansing can bridge the public trust gap with reassurances salaries reflect depressed California wages. With UC’s shared financial sacrifices, the sky above UC will not fall.

    Yours is the opinion that can make the difference, email UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

  • jones on September 25, 2011 9:40 PM:

    A large number of these comments are simply attacking a straw man. Ginsberg never claims that faculty should take over most administrative functions, or that there isn't important work for administrators to do. It's perfectly clear from the article that he's concerned with administrative bloating--specifically, a proliferation of expensive upper-level administrators and administrative activities that contribute little to an institution's ostensible goals. This is a serious problem, and the consumers have every right to know.

  • Milan Moravec on September 25, 2011 9:56 PM:

    I love the University of California (UC) having been a student and lecturer. But today I am concerned that at times I do not recognize the UC I love. Like so many I am deeply disappointed by the pervasive failures of Regent Chairwoman Lansing, President Yudof and the ten campus Chancellors from holding the line on rising costs.
    Californians are reeling from19% unemployment (includes those forced to work part time, and those no longer searching), mortgage defaults, loss of unemployment benefits. And those who still have jobs are working longer for less. Faculty, Chancellor wages must reflect California's ability to pay, not what others are paid.
    Pay increases for generously paid Faculty is arrogance.
    UC Berkeley (ranked # 70 Forbes) tuition increases exceed the national average rate of increases. Chancellor Birgeneau has molded Cal. into the most expensive American public university.
    President Yudof and Chancellor Birgeneau have dismissed many much needed cost-cutting options. They did not consider freezing vacant faculty positions, increasing class size, requiring faculty to teach more classes, doubling the time between sabbaticals, cutting and freezing pay and benefits for all chancellors and and reforming the pension system.
    They said faculty such reforms “would not be healthy for University of California”.
    We agree it is far from the ideal situation, but it is in the best interests of the university system and the state to hold the line on cost increases. UC cannot expect to do business as usual: raising tuition; granting pay raises and huge bonuses during a weak economy that has sapped state revenues and individual Californians’ income.
    There is no question the necessary realignments with economic reality are painful. Regent Chairwoman Lansing can bridge the public trust gap with reassurances that salaries and costs reflect California’s economic reality. The sky above UC will not fall

    Opinions? email the UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

  • John Thelin on October 04, 2011 9:47 AM:

    Notice that many high level academic administrators demand (and get) a tenured faculty position as part of their administrative package. At some point many of these administrators "return to their teaching and research and students" -- usually at an extraordinarily high salary. How ironic -- as administrators they often disparage the faculty, want to reduce or eliminate tenure, but they lead by their own examples to perpetuate the worst abuses of the tenure system. Good work!

  • Milan Moravec on October 05, 2011 8:51 PM:

    Higher education administrators at work. University of California Berkeley: the need for transparency has never been so clear. Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) displaces qualified for public university education at Cal. instate Californians for a $50,600 payment and a foreign passport.

    UC Berkeley, ranked # 70 Forbes, is not increasing enrollment. Birgeneau accepts $50,600 FOREIGN students at the expense of qualified Californians.

    UC Regent Chairwoman Lansing and President Yudof agree to discriminating against instate Californians for foreigners. Birgeneau, Yudof, Lansing need to answer to Californians.

    Your opinion makes a difference; email UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

  • Former Faculty on October 16, 2011 10:54 PM:

    What the author conveniently fails to mention is that much of the growth of administrative costs is a result of many responsibilities - once held by faculty members - are now the responsibility of administrative staff. Not only have teaching loads have decreased over the past two decades, responsibility for managing the university, and participating in student life (e.g. counselling) have been handed off to lower paid admin staff.

  • Milan Moravec on October 19, 2011 5:42 PM:

    How come it costs 50% more (after adjusting for inflation) for University of California Board of Regents Chair Lansing and President Yudof to provide the same service?

    Total expenditures in the UC system in 1999-2000 were $3.2 billion to educate a student population of 154,000. Converted into 2011 dollars using the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI calculator gets us to $4.3B in 2011 dollars, which comes out to $27,850 per student.

    In 2011, the total UC system budget was $6.3 billion dollars: an increase of almost 50% after adjusting for inflation. Enrollment also rose - to 158,000 students, a 3% increase, yielding a cost per student of $39,750.

    Costs went up 50% in 10 years. And yet the news out of UC President Yudof is that the UC system is "bracing" for 'another round of budget cuts'!

    Email opinions to UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

  • Clayton on November 28, 2011 3:32 AM:

    I alas feel a mental midget in the company of so many well spoken and obviously better educated individuals as have posted responses in here. That being said I still see a monstrous void in the gap between well schooled opinion and reality.I live in a "College-Town" in Texas and I actually work for one of the larger Universities as a medical professional but the issue in this that seems overlooked from where I stand seems to be the politics.The university I work for is focused on attaining tier one status and it appears this endeavor is at all costs and costs be damned in their effort to buy status with ever higher tuitions that seem to go to support a political payback mechanism for favors rendered or expected. ALL our presidents, chancellors and whatever presumptuous titles they afford themselves these days, have been political appointments as obvious perks of doing something great and wonderful for the particular party they find themselves the recipient of rewards from.(In this case, the state being Texas, it is the gop)Many headlines have made it into print pointing out the excessive perks and benefits (such as a $10,000 moving expense paid to relocate 2 blocks away because the house was not suitable?)There was a flap for a few weeks and some remarks flew back and forth with the usual pap about how these higher ups DESERVE all this because of all the funding they generate. But eventually it all disappeared from print and other media and was forgotten and business goes on as usual. State college is NOT supposed to be for profit, but that would be a hard sell to the growing trend for fancier titles and bigger compensation packages, and those who benefit from the continuation of this process. And while yes I am paid well and make more then a Mcdonalds cashier I do see grossly misguided and confusing managerial decisions made on the part of this group of privileged executive figurehead types that never will make sense to the average of intellect such as I, who admittedly does not have a clue how this works for anyone's benefit other then those at the top. The costs of running a large university can be huge without a doubt but the cost of budget cuts that reduce the workforce to skeleton crews and overworks and abuses them as we watch the chain of command grow ever longer with more separation in wages and responsibility seen daily will always remain an obscenity to me!

  • Clayton on November 28, 2011 3:58 AM:

    The word "consumer" keeps popping up in an alarming amount of these posting! The redefining of words to further a particular agenda or goal is at work here and needs to be addressed. Consumers are creatures like cattle in a feedlot that "consume what is placed in front of them and tolerated without question or debate. Cattle obviously do not gather at the trough and look at the crushed bone and marrow and cotton hulls and such other matter not normally sought out by them as a normal or natural food source and say to each other >What is this? I did not ask for this! I don't recall seeing that on the menu! When did any of us get asked if we cared if out status got changed from CUSTOMER to CONSUMER? After all a customer has options as to where he applies his resources and can discern whether or not he is getting a proper return for his investment where as a consumer just takes what is put in front of them and accepts it regardless of the lack of quality or value. How pray tell do you become a consumer of an education product anyway? I balk every time I see the word "CONSUMER" since I refuse to be relegated to such a low and powerless status without a fight. I pay for my education in real money and expect to walk out with a real product that serves my needs and my families needs by making me a more valued asset to my employer. This can only happen when we confront labels and demand proper treatment in the education system as CUSTOMERS! Words have meaning and power and abuse of these words and the power in them is dangerous. I guess something this simple might seem shallow to more then a few who post and read in here but some bigger problems always usually seem to come about because of seemingly little things that got overlooked, and one of those appears to be allowing our status as customers of an education system to be downgraded to consumer status.

  • Amy Cooper on December 08, 2011 10:09 AM:

    Wonderful article! I am a graduate student lecturer at a major research university in the US and can attest to these alarming trends. We need much more media coverage on this larger trend of administration in higher education... the lack of funding for full time faculty is a serious problem for students and faculty both and the diversion of funds for education to funds for administration (much of it really very 'make-workish') must be addressed!

  • Prattle On, Boyo on March 18, 2012 8:34 PM:

    All of which just goes to demonstrate that bureacratic :BLOAT:: is absolutely strangling yet another segment. I used to think healthcare administration deserved the award for biggest drain, but I can see now that academia runs a very close second.


  • Guest on May 05, 2012 6:31 PM:

    Some of the comments on this thread are written by admninistrators who are indeed overpaid and overrepresented or by the growing ranks of the PR people employed by the corporate structure.

    Virtually everything the author says is true for my institution which evokes fiscal crisis after fiscal crisis to reduce the number of teacher scholars but to increase the number of absurd "veeps" who have little or nothing to do with the mission or research or teaching.

    I have been an academic and have never seen so many absolutely useless people feeding off of each other in that upper management. Ridiculous.

  • Felix Grantham on May 07, 2012 8:26 AM:

    Former Faculty - could you explain how decreased teaching loads are a result of increased numbers of administrators? Are the administrators doing the teaching? My experience in a non-US institution exactly parallels those that Ginsburg describes. Growth of administrations and of their salaries, and correspondingly fewer resources going into the academic endeavour. Moreover, more administrators doesn't seem to result in less administration for academics - on the contrary!

  • Will on May 08, 2012 8:45 AM:

    "Deanlets" is not an invention--it's in common use. The first decision of any new deanlet is to hire more staff to do the work. This staff then invents things for teaching faculty to do. The farther away "support staff" are from people who walk into classrooms and teach--and sometimes that would be multiple layers--the more the "support" only goes to enhancing their own positions. My department has exactly the same number of tenture-track faculty as in 1984 (triple the number of majors). The Dean's apparatus has grown 500% in the same period.

    So there.

  • Wayne Cristaudo on May 08, 2012 11:25 AM:

    It is not hard to see what line of work those reacting negatively to this piece are in. Many things have contributed to crippling the university. And there was fat. But only a fool or charlatan thinks the forests cut down to enable the flim flam of mission and vision statements and the armies employed for the formalistic and instrumentalist assessment of performance has had even the slightest beneficial impact upon education. What has taken place has been a massive transfer of resources away from educators to administrators undertaken in the name of efficiency - never mind the fact that efficiency is not a terribly meaningful concept when it comes to much higher ed. What would a more efficient understanding of the US in International Relations today look like? Or a more efficient reading of The Tempest? Is it efficient to have published a hundred papers in prestigious journals about ideas that eventually turn out to be based on some deeply flawed underlying theory? The idea that more words/books/ papers etc. are better than less, or that acclaim by one's colleagues tells us the value of something is simply not true - acclaim might be an indicator of value, but might is not is.
    The quantification of quality has been but one in many false moves behind this transfer of resources.
    Ultimately, the ideas upon which this transfer have taken place are all based upon philosophically moribund models of planning and the nature of information and consciousness. What is extraordinary is that the philosophical paucity of a central planning model had been exposed by the break down of soviet styled economies just as an almost identical model of information assessment had taken off in higher ed. That such shabby ideas have created so many economic opportunities for a particular group of stakeholders means that it makes no difference how often one disproves the economic wastage within universities or the damage done to academic work as a whole by this attack upon education undertaken in the name of efficiency. To be fair, the internal damage done in areas such as the humanities by academics themselves through the cultural wars has meant that the administrators were like vultures pecking at the carrion. This, though, does not change the fact they are vultures.

  • Pat Jack on August 28, 2012 4:27 AM:

    Tyranny is the conscious desire for revolution. Tyranny is a suicide bomber in the minds of those that propagate the restriction of freedom for they, the "masters of tyranny" always know their fate, plan for it, and expect the only result ... which is tyranny and all that the cycle of our human condition defines it by.

    Those who create tyranny are the seed of all evil and know, that eventually their end will come, for that is their goal, an end, never a beginning.

  • Milan Moravek on September 30, 2012 7:43 PM:

    Over $1M dollars in administrative, consultant, legal expenses etc is incurred by University of California senior management to pay the $1M pepper spray settlement. University of California senior management shell out millions for their clueless decisions. Hapless UC senior management wastes millions.
    Prop 30, 38 funding will be spent by incompetent UC senior management. It is up to the public to vote no on Prop 30, 38 to keep taxpayer funds from the eminently unwise University of California senior management.

  • James M. on October 16, 2012 4:08 AM:

    Well, this is the post-industrial economy...

    Wiz Khalifa clothing

  • R.C. De Prospo on December 02, 2012 8:58 AM:

    Ancient pro football players' joke: NFL = Not for Long.

    Most professional administrators are like professional athletes. They're short-term, especially compared to tenure-track faculty, and they consider themselves to be living by their wits alone, subject to continuous assessment, and accordingly scornful of anybody who aspires to, or, worse, is in need of continuing tenure.

    Boards are made up almost entirely by people who consider themselves self-made successes. Who determines administrators' salaries? Who approves requests to swell administrations? Toward whom would you expect boards to be generous?

  • R.C. De Prospo on December 02, 2012 9:00 AM:

    Ancient pro football players' joke: NFL = Not for Long.

    Most professional administrators are like professional athletes. They're short-term, especially compared to tenure-track faculty, and they consider themselves to be living by their wits alone, subject to continuous assessment, and accordingly scornful of anybody who aspires to, or, worse, is in need of continuing tenure.

    Boards are made up almost entirely by people who consider themselves self-made successes. Who determines administrators' salaries? Who approves requests to swell administrations? Toward whom would you expect boards to be generous?

  • charlie on May 07, 2013 4:56 AM:

    Are some of you insane? Does anyone honestly think that the administrative bloat is what's necessary to increase the student's understanding of the material? Not one of you have attempted to ask the question, which George Bush couldn't seem to get right, are our students learning? In fact, they're not, not according to the work of the authors of "Academically Adrift," which chronicles the collapse of academic rigor and expectations of the universities. Nealy 1/2 of college students who have been attending for two years have learned nothing, over 40% have learned nothing after four years. The methodology is based on CLEP exams administered to over 2300 students, and the results are unnerving. So what has this roided up college administrative legacy done for students? Not a damn thing, in what matters. Student achievement is falling and it's apparent as more corporations and businesses turn to H1-B/L visas, in order to induce highly skilled/educated foreign workers to take the place of what should be American college grads. That's the real test, but none of the apologists for this bloated, festering boil of administrative flotsam can possibly address that issue. Alas, the tuition bubble is bursting, nearly 1/2 of recent college grads are working at jobs that require no college degree, universities are going to face the consequences of their myopic and self serving demands for more money to buttress a ridiculously unstable business model.

  • bitsy on May 12, 2013 1:59 PM:

    I think I just fell in love with charlie.

  • Grogger on June 03, 2013 6:45 PM:

    You have to see the university for what it is which is a corporate business and a bureaucracy. The same concept of centralized management and worship of "efficiency" is in effect now at most public universities. It has little to do with teaching anymore, in fact, it's just become about producing widgets as cheaply as possible, the widgets now being degrees. The university has a monopoly on the credentialing process and therefore is going to put the screw to as many as they can for as long as they can, this is the new business model imported in, with the upper level administrators playing the role of the CEO. They care nothing about students or learning, except during photo ops or press releases. The sole purpose is to siphon wealth upward while cutting costs and increasing profit. I've worked in higher ed for then years on the bottom floor dealing directly with students and can say without a doubt, the university has become a deceptive, even sadistic environment. No one on the outside would ever understand. Students aren't even being educated, they are being tracked and processed. It's almost maniacal the attention paid to how date is collected, making the numbers looks good, but almost no one ever asks is what were doing needed or wanted or developing the minds of students. I know that many offices exist only to perpetuate their existence, regardless of whether they are needed. It's mind boggling folks the level of waste and flat out insanity that marks the academic world. The folks at the top are some sick puppies.

  • Anonymous on June 04, 2013 10:27 AM:

    For-profit colleges are worse.
    Here's how.
    90% of the funding that they take in is Government: PELL grants and Federal student loans.

    The other 10% is GI BILL they take in through veterans.

    Most students don't end up graduating. Be it because they realize they were scammed/quality is low or their financial aid runs out. Their credits are actually LOST because the colleges keep them ransom to encourage the student to take out more aid (IF the credits are accepted at all.)

    The costs of these rival ivy league but students don't realize it because of deceptive recruitment practices.

    Students can't find jobs because employers don't value them because they know the schools are bogus, even if the student doesn't. The only ones finding jobs are those already employed or those with existing connections after college.

    Most of the money goes to Marketing and Executive compensation. The scraps left over go to educating students. They also spend a mountain on lobbying/campaign donations.

    Students end up with a mountain of student debt and no way to pay it.

    Most of this money is taxpayer backed money.

    The for-profit colleges would rather lobby congress (Rep Kline, Rep Foxx, and others of Education & Workforce Committee) to make more loopholes than raise quality.

    $32 billion dollars a year of taxpayer money is going to these scamsters.

  • mike the perpetual adjunct on June 09, 2013 8:47 PM:

    One point Ginsburg leaves out: In this business model of college admin, the bloated admin has failed. By their own shallow mission they should be cut.To pretend that bloated admin is working for the college good is fantasy. We have enough fantasy with grade inflation. The anti-Ginsburg comments seem to leave out the numbers he cites time after time.

  • DocC on July 09, 2013 6:17 PM:

    A large portion of university employees need more to do - indicted by the length of their own comment posts.