My university in the news!

Now if only it were good news. It seems we’re the victim of bureaucratic excess.

College administrators have found an interesting new way to strike it rich: quitting their jobs. Upon leaving his role as executive vice president of NYU for a job with Citigroup in 2006, Jacob J. Lew (the current Secretary of the Treasury) took a $685,000 bonus from the university. Harold S. Koplewicz, an executive at the NYU Medical Center, got a $1.2 million severance after choosing to leave voluntarily. Given that NYU’s tuition and fees are among the highest in the nation, we’re curious how students who took out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans feel about their money going towards generous benefits and severance packages for administrators.

At least NYU is a private institution, so tax dollars are not spent to cover its inflated costs. As the New York Times notes, public universities are just as guilty of letting a bloated and inefficient administration drive up tuition costs. The University of Minnesota employs 19,000 administrative officials employees, and administrative personnel account for 24 percent of its total payroll, compared with only 20 percent in 2001. At Purdue, the number of administrative employees grew by 54 percent in the last decade.

Overall, the number of administrators hired by colleges and universities increased 50 percent faster than the number of instructors hired between 2001 and 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

We’ve felt the pain down here in the trenches, too. Our core biology curriculum was disrupted a bit by the reluctance of our administration to hire replacement faculty — they saved a few pennies by bringing in temporary faculty as replacements and deferring filling tenure track lines. The replacements were good people, but when you’ve got students coming up through a curriculum pipeline, you really want stability and continuity at the base.

The good news, though, is that the blockages have been uncorked and we’re finally expanding our biology faculty from 8 to 9 — a big boost at a small college.


  1. Ogvorbis says

    In the federal land management agencies our proportion of administrative positions keeps going up and our ‘front line’ positions keep dropping. One of the reasons for this is all the different metrics that have to go through our regional offices and up to Washington. This includes, for instance, numerical assessments of every single asset in every single national park. Any proposal for project funding is dependent on these metrics so they all have to be independently verified by another part of the agency. All of our supplies have to be coded for specific activities with no way to split orders (some paper will be used for informational handouts, some will be used for internal records keeping, which means two different sets of paperwork and two different orders). As both congress and the political appointees keep coming up with more ways to measure what we do, we have to spend far more measuring than we do actually doing it.

    Is this what is happening up at UM Morris?

  2. nutella says

    a $1.2 million severance after choosing to leave voluntarily

    And some people say there’s no social safety net in this country!

  3. says

    “At least NYU is a private institution, so tax dollars are not spent to cover its inflated costs.”

    This statement is false. Insofar as NYU students take out student loans to cover the costs of their education, and insofar as these student loans are subsidized/guaranteed by the federal government, our tax dollars are spent to cover these inflated costs. Educational debt is an increasingly nasty scam in this country. We just hit $1 trillion in student loan debt last year, and if things don’t change dramatically it won’t be long until we hit $2 trillion.

  4. jd142 says

    I work (in a normal staff position, not teaching) at a university with a hiring freeze. And at the same time, faculty are expecting more support from staff and asking them to do more things for them. Everything from provide new services at the same staffing levels to, I kid you not, asking IT staff to literally move an lcd computer monitor less than two feet, from one side of a desk to another. Both kinds of requests are increasing, staff pay is stagnant, and staff morale is the lowest its been in the last 15 years.

    So when I see these kinds of stories, my blood starts to boil. I hate the inefficiencies and I hate that we’ll be the ones punished for them with lower staffing and higher expectations. After all, even the dumbest, laziest faculty is worth more than mere staff.

    Just needed to vent. I really hope you are one of the nice ones and treat staff like humans with actual valuable skills and knowledge. :)

  5. robro says

    City College of San Francisco, which is one of the largest community colleges in the country, is under threat of losing it’s accreditation in part because of a lack of administrative personnel. Instead of cutting faculty and classes to handle the budget cuts, they cut down on admin. They also increased fees to raise revenue, another recommendation from the accrediting agency, but that seems to have had the unexpected consequence of qualifying more students for financial assistance and actually lowering their revenues.

  6. says

    Uh.. How does that work robro? Accreditation is dependent of meeting specific educational requirements, not administration levels. If you cut classes, you ***lose*** the ability to teach the necessary classes that are required for accreditation. And, the idea that students on financial assistance drops revenue is… insane. How does that work? Do you overcharge the ones that are not on loans and grants? More students = more revenue. Otherwise, you have more damn problems than lack of administrators.

    But, as I said at the start, how the hell does “not enough administrators, and too many classes and teachers”, endanger accreditation. By that insane logic, a college with no teachers, no classes, and all administration, would be accredited for everything. I seem to be missing something somewhere in the logic there…

  7. stevenbandyk says

    I’d like to know exactly what they consider Administrative? I would assume they include IT support since my experience at two Universities has been, there’s faculty and there’s staff.

    I run a Divisional IT shop for a prestigious private Research University. I’ve added two staff in the past 11 years, and one of those only by converting two P/T positions to a FTE w/ Benefits.

    During this time, the amount of systems we manage has skyrocketed. Faculty has expanded, as well as administrative staff and compute requirements continue to expand. Luckily, we finally have a central campus HPC group so I’ve recently been able to shed a 768-core cluster we were running, and another smaller 16-node CUDA cluster.
    More impactful to us, individual support requirements are way up. A decade ago, most people had a computer on their desktop and we were just starting to see the laptop as a primary or the laptop as a second system becoming more commonplace.
    Today, an average faculty member has a office desktop often with several in the lab, a laptop, and at least one portable device hooked into the University systems. The interconnected nature of everything also means we need to deal with their home desktops often enough.

    All this, and we make about 1/2 to 2/3 what a good private-sector position would earn in this economy.

    We do have a lot of what an outsider might consider a purely administrative job but they all work hard. Their requirements have gone up as have everyone else’s. We’ve had expanded regulatory requirements over my time there. Additional internal systems, some expanding old [aka. mainframe] systems and others addressing entirely new functions. They’re also dealing with increasingly complex grant applications in an increasingly competitive grant environment.

    We’re bringing in a new researcher right now, poached from another prestigious institution. He won’t be too large, I expect a research group of under a dozen. However, he’s a good example of a PI who has increased “administrative” overhead compared to where he might have been if he were born 10 or 20 years earlier. He’s both an experimental and a computational chemist. He’s straddling the old world of mixing chemicals in a lab [yes, I’m being way too simplistic] and modeling those same compounds.. or others we can’t yet synthesize.
    He’s someone who’s going to be pursuing grants that cover those two worlds. He’s going to need lab support. He’s going to need HPC support, and though he was only looking to buy a dozen nodes initially with his startup funds, the compute requirements of modelers are always functionally infinite. Our new Top500 system was running at full capacity during rollout with 4 researchers on it, and the computational chemist was still burning through millions of hours on the national grids and complaining about cpu time.

    Another we’re currently pursuing will only accept an offer if we line up about $1.5 Mil for the latest-greatest microscope.. and of course the clean room space to install it and the staff to run it, along with the other ones we currently operate.
    At least we got rid of one recently. We don’t do much with lab equipment or the computers that run them. Typically the vendors support the workstations attached to specialized equipment. The one we recently donated to a school in Virginia was different. We supported the Mac IIx that ran it. It was one of, if not the first scanning ion microprobes and somewhere it’s still in use.

    BTW, I started by pointing out I’ve only been able to open two new staff positions in the last 11 years.
    I also mentioned we have some sys admins in the departments [30 years of politics is responsible for our fragmented IT infrastructure].
    How many IT staff is a world renown Physical Sciences Division able to afford? Centrally, me and my 3 staff. We work with 10 [mostly] SysAdmins and other Department-funded/managed IT staff. Together we support something like 2000-2500 personal and lab computer systems, and hundreds of servers and storages devices.

    If only administrative overhead were higher. sigh

    I don’t mean to play the victim but your “administrative” staff, at least the talented [valuable] ones don’t work for the pay. Maybe the benefits, but rarely the pay. And the vacation. We definitely work for the vacation.. when we have time to take it.
    Mostly, we work there because we get to support [mostly] great people, and we support the amazing work of our researchers. As much as I’m tempted by the prospect of making more money in the private sector, I can’t imagine wanting to work anywhere else. That’s why my Linked-in Profile says ‘don’t bother to contact me, I’m not leaving’. :-)


  8. iknklast says

    My college has no full time history instructor, and hasn’t for years. They do the entire history program with adjuncts, and expect them to be supervised by the Political Science instructor, who is not history qualified. We put in a request every year; every year, the request is turned down, but we’ve gained new deans, a Director of Curriculum Development, all sorts of fancy human resources researchers (none of whom understand that the statistics they’re collecting are so badly done they aren’t learning anything of merit), and a Sustainability Coordinator who’s job appears to be to come up with a “green brand” for the school, not to actually develop any real program. She just tells us not to print out things for our students.

    Meanwhile, our instructors are in overload, and burned out. We’ve had substantial growth in students, and growth in administrators, but in faculty we are barely keeping our head above water replacing retirements and resignations. Then, I sat in a meeting last week and heard about the worry of the administration that our faculty is aging, because, apparently, there won’t be anybody available to hire! Are they for real? The last opening had 31 applicants, more than half of whom were well qualified, and I sat there and heard them moaning about how few people applied. Why do we believe this sort of nonsense?

  9. stevenbandyk says

    I’m not sure about that one either but if I had to speculate, perhaps the lack of administrative staff has led them to fall out of compliance with some regulatory requirements. Could be failure to properly enforce FERPA or even HIPAA requirements properly or a number of other things. Even a small school not doing it’s own medical or clinical work may be working with clinical data that would fall under HIPAA and you don’t mess around with HIPAA.

  10. jd142 says

    @stevenbandyk – This. I’ll even go so far as to say Ditto.

    One thing I like about my current job is that I get to do a little of everything. One day I’ll set up a webserver, the next do some custom programming, the next doing security hardening(don’t laugh, it can be done) and imaging of windows computers, the next write wordpress or drupal themes. If I were in a company the size of our university, I’d be pigeonholed in one department. I like the variety. And even a few of the faculty. :)

  11. katansi says

    “At least NYU is a private institution, so tax dollars are not spent to cover its inflated costs.”

    Do Pell grants not apply to private colleges? Having never been to one but having applied to two and being told to fill out FAFSA for both I was under the assumption that federal grants could be put towards private colleges. Because if so, yeah tax dollars are getting spent there.

  12. says

    @7 stevenbandyk – you are correct that many people counted as “administrators” aren’t. For instance I am a computer support person even though my title is “Administrative Professional”. Last Friday I climbed a 10-foot ladder 55 times (because we can’t let student workers up the ladders) to facilitate projector filter cleaning. So if anyone has an image of someone in an office pushing paper, not so much.

    Departments and faculty see cool new technology and “want that”. Every new thing has to be fed and cared for. Different operating systems, hardware, now a cart full of tablets, network printing, Learning Management Systems… it all adds up. Thursday I brought in a pen for a faculty member that actually makes a video of his handwriting while recording his voice. Oh, goodie.

  13. ck says

    georgewiman wrote:

    @7 stevenbandyk – you are correct that many people counted as “administrators” aren’t.

    Yep, and guess which “administrative staff” will get cut if there’s outrage against how many administrative staffers there are: Your IT administrators, maintenance and janitorial staff, student advisers, and anyone else who actually does work. The people who won’t be affected are the middle managers and the other staff you’re actually considering useless, and you’ll never, ever touch the golden parachutes of the top managers and “executive”-class positions.

  14. mareap says

    PZ, does the UM system get fucked around with by the state legislature as does my MnSCU? Now there’s a place to look for administrative bloat, the MnSCU Chancellor’s Office.