Bloated bureaucracies in Higher Ed are draining resources
Source Dave Anderson
Date 11/11/04/13:46
Are Bloated Bureaucracies Undermining Higher Education?

From 1975 to 2005, the cost of attending public universities in the
U.S. tripled. Benjamin Ginsberg argues that much of the increased cost
can be attributed to administrative bloat.

Since the 1970s, Ginsberg notes, the number of administrative staffers
has risen by 235 percent, while the number of faculty and students
has increased by only about 50 percent.

Some administrators do so little that they “could be kidnapped by
space aliens and it would be weeks or even months before his or her
absence from campus was noticed,” Ginsberg writes.

He also says the increase in administrators is taking universities
away from their fundamental academic purpose, and doing students a

Book Excerpt: “The Fall Of The Faculty”
By Benjamin Ginsberg

COLLEGE STUDENTS GENERALLY view professors as individuals who exercise
a good deal of power. Members of the faculty, after all, direct the
lectures, labs, studios and discussions around which academic life is
organized. Professors also control the grades and recommendations that
help to determine students’ graduate school and career prospects.

Students are often aware, too, that some of their professors are
movers and shakers beyond the walls of the campus. Academics are
visible in the worlds of science, literature, the arts, finance and,
especially, politics where they serve as analysts, commentators,
advisors and high-level policy makers.

But, whatever standing they may have in the eyes of undergraduates or
even in the corridors of national power, most professors possess
surprisingly little influence in their own schools’ decision-making
processes. At most, though perhaps not all of America’s thousands of
colleges and universities, the faculty has been shunted to the
sidelines. Faculty members will learn about major new programs and
initiatives from official announcements or from the campus newspaper.
Power on campus is wielded mainly by administrators whose names and
faces are seldom even recognized by students or recalled by alumni.

At most schools to be sure, faculty members control the content of
their own classes and, for the most part, their own research agendas.
The faculty, collectively, plays a recognized though not exclusive
role in the hiring and promotion of its members. Outside these two
areas, though, administrators seldom bother to consult the faculty.
And, should faculty members have the temerity to offer unsolicited
views, these will be more or less politely ignored. Thus, there are
few schools whose faculty members have a voice in business or
investment decisions. Hardly any faculties are consulted about the
renovation or construction of buildings and other aspects of the
school’s physical plant. Virtually everywhere, student issues,
including the size of the student body, tuition, financial aid and
admissions policies are controlled by administrators. At most schools,
fund raising and alumni relations are administrative matters, though
faculty members are often asked to entertain alumni gatherings by
giving talks and presentations.

Most professors, perhaps, have only a passing interest in the
university’s physical plant or its investment strategies. Particularly
at research universities many faculty members normally pay little
attention to their school’s undergraduate admissions policies. But,
professors lack much power even in areas in which they have a strong
interest, such as the appointment of senior administrators, the
development of new programs and curricula, and the definition of
budgetary priorities.

As to appointments, on most campuses, presidential searches are
controlled by the trustees or regents, while provosts, deans and other
senior administrators are appointed by the president with varying
degrees of faculty input. Professors, to be sure, often do serve on
administrative or presidential search committees, alongside
administrators, students and college staffers. These searches,
however, are usually organized and overseen by corporate search firms
employed by trustees, in the case of presidential searches, or the
school’s administration for other searches. Before the 1960s, such
firms were seldom retained by universities. Today, however, as college
administrators imitate the practices of their corporate counterparts,
search firms are a fixture of academic life. In recent years,
two-thirds of the presidential searches conducted by large
universities have been directed by professional head hunters.

In consultation with their employers, these firms identify most of the
candidates whom the committee will be able to meet and consider.
Generally speaking, search firms rule out candidates about whom
anything at all negative is said when they investigate candidates’
backgrounds. This practice introduces a marked bias in favor of the
most boring and conventional candidates. And, even the constrained
choice given the committee is seldom final. Search committees are
generally empowered only to recommend two or three candidates for
review by the president or trustees who actually make the final
decision. Many schools, of course, do not bother with even the
pretense of faculty participation in administrative searches. The
faculty learns the name of a new president or provost when the
trustees issue a press release.

Once appointed, presidents serve at the pleasure of the trustees and
can only be removed by them. Other administrators serve at the
pleasure of the president. Every school employs a great many
administrators whom the faculty regard as foolish or incompetent. But,
so long as these individuals retain the support of their
administrative superiors, the faculty is usually powerless to remove
them. At one school, Pennsylvania’s Albright College, the faculty were
dismayed to learn in 1999 that the resume’ of their newly appointed
president was filled with fraudulent claims–books never published,
positions never held and so on. Yet, while the facts of the matter
could not be disputed, most trustees continued to support the
president for nearly five years before he finally agreed to step down.
Much of the Boston University faculty loathed and feared dictatorial
President John Silber during his twenty-five years in office but,
given Silber’s solid base of support among powerful members of the
board of trustees, faculty opposition came to naught. In a similar
vein, the trustees stood by the president of West Virginia University
in the face of a faculty no-confidence vote when it was revealed that
the university had awarded the daughter of the state’s governor an MBA
degree she had not actually earned. Conversely, faculty support will
certainly not protect an administrator’s job if she or he runs afoul
of the Board. In 2005, for example, Cornell’s Jeffrey Lehman, a
president whose work was generally approved by the faculty, was
summarily fired by the Board, apparently in the wake of a personnel
dispute. The Board neither consulted with nor informed the faculty
before determining that Lehman should go.

Occasionally, to be sure, just as riots and disturbances in a third
world country can bring about the regime’s downfall, severe faculty
unrest may bring about the sudden ouster of an unpopular or inept
administrator. In 2006, for example, vehement faculty protest forced
the resignation of Harvard’s Larry Summers and Case Western’s Edward
Hundert. Yet, not unlike third world peasants, disgruntled professors
are seldom able to convert their brief paroxysm of rage into any form
of sustained influence. In the university as in the third world, after
the jubilant celebrations marking the ouster of the hated old regime
end, an imperious new leadership cadre arrives to grasp the reins of
power. Confined to an occasional uprising, the faculty exercises
little more power over administrative tenure than the students,
another campus group that can occasionally overthrow a college
president but almost never governs. Thus, in 2006, apparently a
difficult year for college leaders, several weeks of protests by
Gallaudet College students forced the resignation of president-elect
Jane Fernandez. At last report, however, students were not running the
college. As often as not, faculty protests have little effect. Thus,
for example, at New York’s New School for Social Research, several
years of faculty rebellion, including a 271 to 8 vote of no confidence
in December, 2008, did not result in the ouster of despised president,
Bob Kerrey.

The views of the faculty play a similarly limited role when it comes
to new programs and spending priorities. For example, in 1998, faculty
at the University of Texas at Austin were surprised to learn that the
university administration had decided to spend nearly $200 million to
expand the school’s athletic facilities. This plan included renovation
of the football stadium as well as construction of an air conditioned
practice field, a new track-and-field stadium and a new athletic
center. Not only did this involve a diversion of funds from other
potential uses, but it would come at the expense of badly needed
classroom and laboratory space. The faculty’s objections were ignored.

In a similar vein, early in 2005, Florida State University professors
were startled to learn from press accounts that their school’s
administration planned to build a school of chiropractic medicine on
the Tallahassee campus. Indeed, before the faculty had even read about
the idea, the university’s president had already hired an
administrator to oversee planning for the new school and advertised
for a dean to direct its programs. University administrators boasted
that theirs would be the first chiropractic school formally affiliated
with an American university, making FSU the nation’s leader in this
realm. Administrators apparently were not bothered by the fact that
chiropractic theories, claims and therapies, beyond simple massage,
are universally dismissed by the medical and scientific communities as
having no scientific basis. In essence, FSU administrators aspired to
a lead role in the promotion of quackery. Fortunately, the state
legislature cut off funds for the chiropractic school before the
administration’s visionary plans could be implemented.

In 2008, Virginia Commonwealth University faculty were astonished to
discover that their administration had signed a secret agreement with
the Philip Morris tobacco company which prohibited professors from
publishing or even discussing the results of their research without
the company’s permission. Under the agreement, queries from third
parties, such as news organizations, were to be directed to the
company and university officials were to decline to comment. The
school’s vice president for research asserted that the contract, which
violated the university’s own rules, struck a reasonable balance
between the university’s need for openness and Philip Morris’s need
for confidentiality.

At my own university, a 2006 press release informed the faculty that
the school’s administration had decided to establish a graduate school
of business and would soon begin a search for a dean. The announcement
came as a complete surprise to the faculty. Even professors in such
fields as Economics, who would be expected to contribute to the new
school’s efforts, were not consulted about or even informed of the
plan before it was made public. Most faculty members were dubious
about the administration’s objectives, particularly when it became
evident that fund raising for the business school, which would require
tens of millions of dollars from the university, would take precedence
over other, more pressing, development priorities. Oblivious to
faculty concerns, the school’s former president and former provost
blithely declared that they hoped professors would direct graduating
seniors with business interests to the new and even now unaccredited

Particularly aggressive administrators are prepared to confront and
silence faculty resistance to their plans to establish new programs or
reorganize old ones. One favorite administrative tactic is the claim
that some fiscal or other emergency requires them to act with
lightning speed–and without consulting the faculty–to save the
university. For example, in 1999, the president of the University of
Dubuque informed the faculty that because of a financial shortfall,
the administration was eliminating or consolidating more than half the
school’s majors and programs. For the most part, liberal arts programs
were to be cut in favor of the business curriculum favored by the
administration and the school’s trustees. No faculty were consulted
before the president made his announcement nor was evidence of the
supposed financial crisis presented to the faculty.

More recently, in the wake of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster,
administrators at several New Orleans schools declared states of
emergency. These administrators asserted, with some legal
justification, that in times of emergency they possessed the power to
reorganize programs, drastically change the college curriculum,
eliminate course offerings and, indeed, close entire departments
without consulting the faculty. At Loyola University of New Orleans,
according to a report commissioned by the American Association of
University Professors (AAUP), President Kevin Wildes surprised the
faculty by releasing a document entitled “Pathways Toward Our Second
Century,” which presented a blueprint for a complete reorganization of
the university, including the elimination of several programs,
consolidation of others and the suspension of eleven degree programs.
The president conceded that his administration had begun work on
“Pathways” before the hurricane. Katrina, though, “may have forced us
to accomplish this undertaking much earlier than expected.” In other
words, the hurricane provided the administration with an opportunity
to bring about a complete reorganization of the school’s teaching and
research programs without faculty involvement.

Similarly, under the cover of a declaration of fiscal exigency,
Tulane’s president, Scott Cowen, proffered a “Plan for Renewal,” that
included reorganization or elimination of academic programs and major
changes in the curriculum. Some faculty members charged that the plan
was an opportunistic effort to implement proposals that had been
presented to the faculty and defeated before Katrina. Tulane’s
administration rejected this interpretation of events, but President
Cowen conceded that the hurricane had allowed him to take “bold”
actions that could not have succeeded under normal circumstances. “Out
of every disaster comes an opportunity,” Cowen said. As we shall see
below, the financial crisis of 2009 gave administrators new
opportunities to take bold actions.

Even in matters of curriculum planning, an area usually seen as the
province of the faculty, some college administrators and trustees have
been encroaching on professorial power. In 1999, for example, faculty
at the State University of New York (SUNY) charged that the system’s
trustees were mandating a new system-wide general education curriculum
without so much as consulting the SUNY faculty. In 2005, Delaware
State University administrators relieved the faculty of the burden of
curriculum planning when they informed professors that the university
would be developing a new degree program without any faculty
involvement at all. The university had contracted with a New York
company called “” which would design and staff a new
online Delaware State Master’s degree program in graphic arts and Web
design. The school’s administration dismissed faculty objections to
its curricular outsourcing plan.

In many instances, when they declare the need to reform the
undergraduate curriculum, administrators have no actual interest in
the curriculum’s content. Their real goal is to reduce the centrality
of the traditional curriculum and to partially supplant it with what
might be called a “student life” curriculum consisting of activities,
seminars and even courses led by administrative staff rather than
faculty. The traditional curriculum gives the faculty a privileged
claim on university resources and decision-making priorities while the
new curriculum enhances the power of administrators and justifies
hiring more administrators and fewer faculty. Administrators usually
seek to justify their school’s shift in emphasis by explaining that a
good deal of learning takes place outside the classroom or involves
subjects beyond the realm of the faculty’s traditional sphere of

A former assistant dean–or perhaps deanlet or deanling might be a
better title–at my university explained that students need to learn
more than academic skills.12 They also must be taught, “the universal
life skills that everyone needs to know.” And what might be an example
of one of these all-important proficiencies? According to this
deanling, a premier example is event planning. “For many students, the
biggest event they’ve ever planned is a dinner at home.” But, planning
an event on campus might require, “reserving the room, notifying
Security, arranging transportation and lodging for out-of-town
speakers, ordering food.” Armed with training in a subject as
important and intellectually challenging as event planning, students
would hardly need to know anything about physics or calculus or
literature or any of those other inconsequential topics taught by the
stodgy faculty.

An instrument often used by administrators to gain control over the
curriculum is the study commission. Many universities, in recent
years, have established commissions or committees to study the
undergraduate curriculum and make recommendations for reform. Though
the precise reasons for reform may not be clear, Americans generally
believe that reform is a good thing and find it difficult to deny the
desirability of considering reform proposals. Thus, even when the
faculty is dubious about the need for such a commission, it is hard
pressed to argue against its creation. At some schools, Berkeley,
Chicago, Harvard and Stanford for example, professors were able to
gain control of reform committees, asserting plausibly that they knew
more about curricular needs than other groups on campus. More often,
though, the makeup of the committee is designed to dilute or diminish
faculty influence and the committee’s subsequent recommendations are
often designed to create new budgetary priorities that will enhance
administrators’ power and prerogatives.

One example of this phenomenon is the Commission on Undergraduate
Education (CUE) established by my university in 2002. This commission,
whose announced goal was to improve the quality of undergraduate
education, seemed to be modeled after similar commissions that had
been established at Berkeley and Stanford. This sort of “borrowing” is
common in administrative circles, where original ideas are usually in
short supply. Administrators often hide their mimicry under the rubric
of adherence to “best practices.” They can seldom offer any real
evidence that the practice in question is even good, much less best.
The Hopkins president who launched the committee had once been a
Stanford faculty member, while the Hopkins provost, formerly a
Berkeley professor, had actually served on Berkeley’s undergraduate
education commission. Perhaps it was only natural that they should
copy concepts from campuses with which they were familiar. While
Hopkins borrowed the name CUE from its sister schools, the Hopkins
commission functioned quite differently from its namesakes. At
Berkeley and Stanford faculty members had seized control of their
undergraduate commissions and had largely beaten back administrative
incursions into curricular matters. Hopkins’ faculty, however, was
caught off guard and watched as the committee became an administrative

Administrative designs were evident from the outset when the president
charged the commission with the task of improving undergraduate
education, “ both inside and outside the classroom.” The phrase
outside the classroom usually signals an effort by administrators to
shift budgetary priorities from teaching, which the faculty controls,
to other activities where, as noted above, faculty claims of expertise
are weaker and administrators have an opportunity to expand their own
bureaucratic domains. The role the administration expected the
committee to play became even more clear when its make-up was
announced. At Berkeley and Stanford most CUE members had been drawn
from the faculty. At Hopkins, though, only eight of the forty
individuals named to the commission were full-time professors. Twelve
were administrators and staffers, and the remainder were students and
alumni. Of the eight faculty commissioners, two were untenured and,
thus, concerned not to make waves, and some of the others were
individuals frequently appointed to university committees because they
could be trusted by the administration to refrain from making trouble.

Named to chair Hopkins’ CUE was a freshly-appointed Vice Provost for
Undergraduate Education, a former medical school professor who had
little or no experience with undergraduate education. This lack of
acquaintance on the part of its chair with the subject of the
commission’s inquiry would presumably be no hindrance to its efforts
to improve education outside the classroom. Before the commission
could complete its work, this worthy left the university to become the
provost of a small college. The inaugural chair was soon replaced by a
new Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, also an individual with
no experience inside the classroom.

For at least some of the faculty committee members, service was a
mind-numbing experience. On many occasions the CUE chair scheduled
presentations by counselors and consultants–presumably experts in
education outside the classroom–who led the commissioners in
incomprehensible role-playing exercises. One professor told me that he
thought he had been transported to an alternative universe whose
official language was psychobabble. Administrators on the commission,
though, were reported to enjoy their work. Like their bureaucratic
counterparts everywhere they welcomed time out of the office,
particularly if lunch was provided.

CUE submitted its report in 2003. Only a handful of the report’s
recommendations actually focused on undergraduate education, the
committee’s nominal topic. For the most part, these recommendations
took the form of vague and platitudinous exhortations. Recommendation
5, for example, declared that the university should, “Expand the
opportunities available to first-year students for intellectually
engaging academic experiences in a small group format.” Presumably,
implementation of this bold proposal would require overcoming fierce
opposition from the many groups on campus committed to blocking
student exposure to intellectually engaging experiences. Other
recommendations were trivial. Number 12, for example, called upon
professors to, “give final examinations only during the final
examination period.” This would end the common practice of offering
exams on the last day of class, a custom that had undoubtedly
diminished the quality of American higher education for more than a
century. Equally bold was Recommendation 33, which prodded the
university to, “improve food quality and service.”

If CUE had little to offer on the topic of undergraduate education
inside the classroom, it had much to say about what should happen
outside the classroom. Recommendation 1 called upon each college
within the university to appoint a “senior level administrator” to
assure the quality of undergraduate education. Recommendation 12
affirmed the need for a new administrator to, “develop networking and
internship opportunities for undergraduates.” Recommendation 26
demanded that more minority administrators be hired. Other
recommendations called for expansion of administrative supervision of
most aspects of campus life.

One might have thought that improving undergraduate education would
begin by enlarging the faculty to allow a larger number and greater
variety of courses. Perhaps, the committee might have considered
changes in the undergraduate curriculum to address emerging fields in
the sciences or new concepts in the humanities. But, apparently the
idea that at least the first steps in improving undergraduate
education should have something to do with faculty and courses is an
old fashioned and overly professorial perspective. Created and led by
administrators, the commission found that the undergraduate experience
could be most effectively improved if the university hired more
administrators! Several years later, many committee recommendations,
including those pertaining to the quality of student life, had not
been fulfilled, according to the school’s student newspaper. Those
proposals calling for the appointment of more administrators, however,
had been quickly implemented.

Oxford University Press, Inc. Copyright 2011

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