Academia

"Nobody ever heard of an 'adjunct administrator'": Higher Ed SNAFU

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Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, has a sharp column up at USA Today. It's about out-of-control administrators who outnumber full-time faculty at most colleges and universities and are largely responsible for the climate of close-mindedness and repressive policies. Reynolds runs through several recent, high-profile examples of Dean Wormer-level stupidity before 

In his book, The Fall of the Faculty, Johns Hopkins Professor Benjamin Ginsberg talks about the profusion of "deanlets" that has overtaken higher education. But it's even worse when those deanlets not only eat up the substance of institutions, but also command armed force. It's extremely doubtful that any outside law enforcement agency would have responded to any of the "threats" listed above, but campus police, called in by insecure deanlets, have little choice. This sort of behavior, though, is unfair, bad for morale, and likely to spur expensive and embarrassing litigation…. 

Full-time administrators now outnumber full-time faculty. And when times get tough, schools have a disturbing tendency to shrink faculty numbers while keeping administrators on the payroll. Teaching gets done by low-paid, nontenured adjuncts, but nobody ever heard of an "adjunct administrator."… 

With college enrollment falling and budgets under pressure, legislatures, donors and alumni will be looking at ways to restructure schools in the future. The profusion of self-important deanlets and the abuse of campus police forces ought to be looked at as part of this process. It's just another symptom of the now-imploding higher education bubble.

More here.

I support the move toward "adjunct administrators." It used to be widely understood that a college or university travels on the quality of its faculty, not its climbing walls, dining halls, or number of administrators. The University of Arkansas' Jay Greene found that between 1993 and 2007, the number of administrators at research universities grew by 39 percent per 100 students while the number of employees directly involved in research and teaching grew by just 18 percent. More damning, spending on administration grew 50 percent faster than spending on instruction. Administrators don't just add to the open-air prison climate on many campuses, they directly add to rising costs.

Reason TV's Alexis Garcia interviewed Reynolds a few weeks back about his important book The New School and many other topics. Watch below or go here for downloadable versions, full text, and links.


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  1. Funny, the Full time Faculty were as useless or more useless than the administrators when I was in College. You wanted the Adjuncts, they had jobs in industry and were teaching to make additional money. They know the subject matter and actually make an effort to have their students learn it. The tenured professors can’t always be arsed to make it to class, and their apathy showed in their work product.

    Most of the institute was dead weight and could have been excised without any loss to the students.

    1. My college experience was similar. I had one prof that was a renowned Islamic scholar, and it was patently clear that he just wanted to sit in his office and do research, not teach undergrads. He was so disinterested, I don’t even know if he provided a syllabus.

  2. profusion of deanlets

    1) Nice band name.

    2) Analogous to “skulk of foxes”.

  3. Visit the Penn State Freshman dorm. There is a wall of names – all full-time petty administrators/bureaucrats who run the place. Apparently they fill the roll that Junior / Senior Advisers used to do for next to nothing.

    Answered my question on why the fuck their out-of-state tuition is so high.

  4. No matter what it is or who commenced it,

    I’m against it.

    1. +1 cigar

      1. Young Lady, would you mind standing up so I can see the Son rise?

  5. Ginsberg should know. Hopkins has been on an administrative spending bender for the past two and a half decades. They collect massive amounts of federal dollars and are more than happy to acquiesce to any ridiculous demand that originates with any portion of the federal bureaucracy.

    Oh, and Bloomberg is a large donor.

  6. The solution to admin proliferation is easy: Any of them that cannot explain the worth of their job to an undergrad in less than 140 characters should be fired.

  7. Isn’t there an Iron Law about this? Something about incentives, subsidies, or whatever?

    1. You get more of what you reward, and less of what you punish.

      The debt-fuelled higher ed bubble is the root cause. It removed a great deal of financial discipline from colleges. The first thing that happens in any organization that lacks financial discipline is staff bloat, particularly in middle management. Senior management is rewarded with ever-growing satrapies, and aren’t punished for financial irresponsibility.

  8. He hits on the root of the problem at the very start — faculty are not interested in administrative work, aren’t good at it, and do it poorly. Colleges used to be run almost entirely by faculty, but they washed their hands of it.

    It does make sense in many ways though. Why use a skilled economist to process financial aid applications. Or a history professor to negotiate contracts with food service companies. Or a doctor of music to run dorms or oversee groundskeeping.

    1. True. Although, I think it’s a good idea to hire people to do the kinds of jobs you mention above. Most of them where I work are paid good, but not great, salaries.

      The problem lies in the higher level administrative positions & their “support” staff. We have c.16k students where I work. Under the Chancellor, we have a Senior Vice-Chancellor, 6 Associate Vice Chancellors, two Assistant Vice Chancellors, and a Vice Chancellor.

      There are 6 academic colleges each with their own dean + a dean for the library + a dean for International Studies (an admin office not a college). Then, of course, the deans have their own little admin coterie. For example, in one college, there is an associate dean, an assistant to the dean/business manager, special projects coordinator, IT coordinator, etc., etc.

      Every individual college has its own IT department and the university has its own IT Services office.

    2. Too many of the Western Intellectual types that become modern academics are workshy twits. My father was a professor, and annoyed many of his fellow faculty by loudly asserting that professors should PUBLISH. If they don’t even want to publish, you can imagine how hard it would be to get admin work out of them.

      1. My father was a professor, and annoyed many of his fellow faculty by loudly asserting that professors should PUBLISH.

        Umm..if they’re not publishing, then what the hell are they doing? The whole point of being a scholar is contributing to the collected sum of human knowledge. Until we develop telepathy, the only way of doing that is empirical research on a topic and then publishing your results.

        1. Doing trendy projects that won’t stand up to peer review. Going to conferences. Basking in the admiration of the students.

          1. To be fair some of the ones that Father was most annoyed at did a lot of research. They just wouldn’t then organize the results and publish. My father knew that scholars are a luxury good. If society was going to pay him to do the research he loved, he felt the absulote minimum he owed,was to make themresults available.

            1. They just wouldn’t then organize the results and publish

              I just don’t understand. The best part of it for me is the “Hey y’all, look at what I found” part.

              1. I have a friend at another school who loves teaching, likes doing research but just hates actually sitting down and putting the research (history) into written form. So, she pretty much hasn’t published but she teaches 4/4 and the school is one that emphasizes teaching so everyone seems happy.

                1. I’m guessing with history that she has to write with Chicago/Turabian style, which would be enough to turn me off writing for publication. Because fuck footnotes.

                  1. Yep, that would be it.

          2. Going to conferences.

            These used to be a great way to keep up on the latest research trends in the profession, but lately they have increasingly become a complete waste of time and money as the intellectual quality of academia ossifies. They’re basically just circle jerks for academics and grad students to expound on topics that have been covered ad naseum the last 40 years, or are so superficial they would have been better served as an article submission to a mass-market magazine.

        2. Our contracts are written to teach 4/4 with a research release so that we actually teach 3/3. Needless to say, most people teach 3/3 but some are not doing any research. A small amount of pressure is beginning to be applied to try and get them to actually do research or lose the research release.

          1. I just finished an IRB proposal a couple of weeks ago.

            I need to punch some people in the face.

            1. Don’t worry, it’ll probably come back for revision. IRBs are one of the things that make me glad I’m a mathematician.

        3. Umm..if they’re not publishing, then what the hell are they doing?

          Coasting on tenure. Your more ambitious types devote their free time proggy activism.

          1. Count me as on who would be happy if Professor Krugman never published anything ever again.

  9. I work in a public university, and agree that the number of administrators is somewhat ridiculous. On the other hand, some of it is out of our control. For example, random staff person figures out how to scam the system and commits fraud upon the university. Rather than punishing the one person and the department that wasn’t following existing rules (and therefore allowed the fraud to take place), the state must be seen to be “DOING SOMETHING” and puts in place ridiculous new regulations, requiring the hiring of additional administrators. Repeat ad nauseum. There are so many overlapping rules, regulations and ‘guidelines’ it’s ridiculous. Not to mention the constant fear of anything resembling bad press.

    And most faculty stink at administration. You don’t want them anywhere near it.

    1. Yeah, and faculty really don’t want to get involved in a pissing match with upper level administrators over this kind of stuff for a whole bunch of reasons.

    2. BCG, you must work at my university.

      It’s really odd how the Captains of Industry that sit on our board of trustees are the first ones to point out all the various negative effects of excessive regulation when it comes to their own businesses, but they all think the university is somehow different and immune to those effects.

      1. Full disclosure: I am currently an associate dean.

  10. Time to organize a cull.

    1. The market will take care of that in time.

      1. Administrators are like deer; if left un-culled they overgraze the ecosystem and starve all the other inhabitants. And some academics are actually usefefull. Hard science types, for example.

  11. Public university professor calls for a bigger share of taxpayer funding be given to public university professors. I’M SHOCKED.

    1. I suppose that’s a way of looking at it. On the other hand, asmin are like cockroaches; they do very little goos and multiply like crazy. He has several good poiunts.

    2. I didn’t see that in the article.

      It was about abuse by administrators, with one paragraph at the end talking about budget pressure and how admins are the low-hanging fruit of cutting costs.

      Does getting rid of waste mean that the remaining employees get “a bigger share”? Sure, that’s trivially true, but if you take it as an argument against cutting waste, then you’re now arguing against cutting waste. Which seems kinda stupid, to me.

  12. Contest time! Find the most ridiculous dean!

    Here’s one from my alma mater:

    Dean of Diversity

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