What does Auburn University do?

I know they have to have good people working there, and any major state university is going to be providing support to valuable programs, but…if you asked me to name something memorable about Auburn, I’m afraid my brain is going to be flooded with nothing but FOOOBAAAWWW. It’s a sports school. They seem to think that’s the whole raison d’etre for existing. They spent $30 million on football alone last year. And that’s their reputation.

In recent decades, Auburn University added hundreds of millions of dollars in spending to its budget. The additional money didn’t go to the English department, nor to the sociology department. Some science departments only got a trickle more.

Instead, much of the money went toward administrative salaries, buildings and, no surprise, sports.

Auburn piled millions more each year into paying down the debt it borrowed for campus upgrades, including an $84 million basketball arena. It hired hundreds of administrators and professional staff. Spending on the president’s office and other administrative departments often increased far faster than that on many academic subjects.

That’s from a breakdown of Auburn’s budget. They’re pouring money into everything but education, and guess how they’re paying for it? By raising tuition to cover a spending spree.

Among Auburn’s projects built between 2002 and 2016: A $20 million building that is home to information technology staff. A $20 million kinesiology building with labs focused on physical activity and human movement. A $16 million indoor sports facility project that allows student athletes to practice during bad weather.

In 2013, Auburn opened a recreation and wellness center that cost $74 million to build. It includes climbing towers, an indoor track and an outdoor pool with a diving well, basketball goals and its own wet climbing wall.

In 2009, students voted to increase fees to finance the center’s operations, and each paid $450 toward it last school year.

In addition, in 2016, the university began a multiyear $15 million renovation of the president’s house.

Though donors sometimes help with building costs, Auburn paid for many buildings in part by borrowing money, which shows up in annual budgets as debt service. In 2016, Auburn spent about $60 million paying down its debt, much of which was related to buildings. That’s roughly triple what it spent in 2002.

You know, I can’t blame them. They are merely serving the demands from donors, alumni, and potential students — the reason many people go to Auburn is foobaww. If the administration were to pare down athletics expenditures, if they were to stop promoting football, football, football and try to become the intellectual powerhouse they have the potential to be, the citizens of Alabama would rise up in fury and cut them off at the knees, and their students would flee to some other Southern state that is still pushing football. They’ve got a donor base that is rich and wants “their” team to win, and students who are there on Mommy & Daddy’s money and want their perks and privileges.

The school’s student body is unusually well-heeled for a public school. Only 11% of full-time freshmen received federal Pell Grants, reserved for low-income students, in 2021-22. That’s one of the lowest percentages of any public U.S. university and also the vast majority of private colleges.

Auburn also ranks among the most expensive public schools for poor families, who attend some state schools for almost nothing. Auburn freshmen from families earning under $30,000 annually owed an average $17,481 in total costs after scholarships in 2021-22, federal data show.

Interesting, given that Alabama is the 6th poorest state in the nation. Auburn does not serve the general population, but rather the wealthiest citizens. It is officially a public state college, but looks more like a private college with specialized appeal.

They’re also afflicted with the parasites that infest every educational institution in the country.

But Auburn has disproportionately hired administrators and staff. Between 2002 and 2016, Auburn added nearly 600 full-time employees, numbers published by the college show. The number of faculty grew by 10% while the number of administrators grew by 73%.

Though average salaries for professors climbed in the mid-2000s, over the next decade they roughly kept pace with inflation, Auburn’s figures show.

In Auburn’s academic colleges, spending on the administration—usually the dean of a college and his or her staff—often rose faster than spending on individual academic departments.

In some administrative areas outside of Auburn’s academic colleges, spending often rose even faster.

Gogue earned $846,000 in salary, bonus and benefits in calendar 2016, the last full year of his first term as president, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which tracks pay for public college presidents.

He earned more money in other years. In 2017, for example, his total compensation topped $2.1 million because he received a payout of deferred compensation that had been previously set aside. Gogue said he doesn’t remember details from his compensation at Auburn.

I’d love to see a similar analysis of the University of Minnesota system. I often feel that we’re busily hiring administrators, while academic departments are scraping along understaffed, begging to fill faculty lines that are empty because of attrition or retirements or people looking for better positions, and we’re told there is a hiring freeze or worse, only a limited number of slots are available, so departments are expected to fight with each other to see who gets the position. When we’re down to 3 people teaching all of science, or 2 people teaching all of the humanities, I don’t think our surplus of administrators will step in to teach our classes (and we wouldn’t want them to — we’ve got standards.)

I’m also thinking that $2 million would cover the salaries and benefits of about 20 entry level faculty.


  1. bcw bcw says

    During the reign of Columbia University’s previous president the number of administrators tripled, the student count increased and the number of faculty remained flat with a shift towards adjuncts. There are some small positive signs from the new president as she forced the creation of an actual org chart so you can tell who is actually supposed to be doing what and has since dumped a couple of deans and staff. Weshallsee.

  2. raven says

    Auburn University’s tuition is $12,536 for in-state and $33,944 for out-of-state students. Compared with the national average cost of in-state tuition of $11,560, Auburn University is more expensive.

    Auburn University – Tuition and Financial Aid | US News Best …

    U.S. News & World Report https://www.usnews.com › best-colleges › paying

    I looked it up.

    Auburn’s in state tuition is $12,636 per year.
    This is actually pretty high. That national average they cite is also high, even if it really is the national average.

    There are academically far better state universities on the west coast that cost $12,000 per year in tuition.

    That out of state tuition is bonkers. Don’t pay it.

    University of Minnesota, Morris/Undergraduate tuition and fees

    In-state tuition 13,848 USD, Out-of-state tuition 15,940 USD

    UM Morris is more than Auburn!!!

    At least their out of state tuition is far more reasonable.

    My first year tuition at a good state school on the West coast in the 1970s was something like $600 a year.

  3. says

    Sounds familiar. In my distant past as a science student the university I attended received a new vice-chancellor. Their claim to fame was a very expensive upgrade to the residence that came with the job and large sums of money acquiring a university art collection to beautify the grounds and buildings. Mostly various forms of erotica which apparently was their fetish. Much of it was housed at their residence and when she moved on there was a dispute about what was hers and what belonged to the university. Their main educational contribution if you could call it that was to increase the university’s debt burden by building a graduate school of management complete with 5 star accommodation for cashed up corporate high flyers. This turned into a white elephant as the cashed up corporates preferred to stay in the much nicer 5 star hotel a mile down the road. Its construction also resulted in the local extinction of rare invertebrates in the university’s streams. Meanwhile one of the science schools had to resort to holding breakfasts and morning and afternoon teas to raise money for the very significant work that was significantly bolstering the academic credentials of the university.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    I know Scott Adams is discredited, but this would fit into an early Dilbert cartoon.

  5. wzrd1 says

    I’m still trying to figure out, what does a football degree qualify one for?
    Other than hitting one another over the head with hammers.
    Now, I’ve an infamously hard head, literally, but that never did qualify me for a job position. Thinking did.

    Oh, just heard back from our youngest daughter, didn’t realize she had called me during my apparent TIA. She said I sounded very seriously drunk and decidedly confused.
    That’s twice I fouled up in a life threatening condition, once due to anaphylactic shock, once due to probable TIA.
    Maybe I need a medical professional to supervise me… :/
    Had a few cups full for the apparent TIA, but, well, nothing that’d anesthetize my frigging brain.
    And had a dizziness episode today, so doctor call tomorrow.
    Don’t wanna run out of brain and all.
    Not that anyone wants to hire a 62 year old IT guru… :(

    For the record, I don’t recall the telephone call, which is worrisome in the extreme.
    Also been having scintillating schotomas that follow a classic depolarizing depression pattern.
    And a family history of strokes.
    And prioritization is an error I have to reconsider.

    Also feeling like poop, couldn’t crap for a day, likely back issue, maybe, dunno. Defective software currently…
    Coughing up a lung for half a day, snotting up a storm, serious suggestions of either a massive allergy attack or missive from a virus. The latter lowered late into the night, suggesting a neighbor smoked up, to which I’m massively allergic to, the suddenly clogged sinuses being a hint.
    Puking up dinner, thank you, neighbor.
    Yeah, I’m that allergic to weed smoke. Oddly, OK with certain oils from said seeds.
    Also have some other issues that need investigation, gonad related and sudden onset.
    Aging is a royal pain in the balls…
    Of course, that was intentional.

  6. whheydt says

    Hmmm… Back when I was a student at the University of California at Berkeley, there was no in-state tuition. On the other hand there was an “incidental fee” (which I took to mean that the admissions office would tell you, “Incidentally, you owe us…”) but it was $81 per quarter, or $243 per year. The dorm I was in was $920 per year for room, board, and a dedicated bus to and from campus, the complex being the farthest dorms from campus that UCB had then.

  7. Hemidactylus says

    …their students would flee to some other Southern state that is still pushing football.

    Or go to the rival in state school University of Alabama, though that rivalry is so fierce (see Iron Bowl) they might prefer out of state over being a turncoat.

    College football is VERY important in Alabama, having no pro teams. I don’t think Auburn has been doing as well lately as Alabama, the latter having a Belichick protege as a coach.

  8. submoron says

    Those admin/faculty ratios are Parkinson’s law in action. I remember John Bird and John Fortune pointing out that the Royal Navy had more Admirals than capital ships continuing a trend pointed out by C Northcott Parkinson himself in 1955. The original article/book showed that Admiralty workers and dockyard staff had increased and ships, officers and seamen decreased continually since the end of WW1 THere may have been interruption 1939-1945.

  9. teal4two says

    The football program aka Auburn (#2 instate football team) did recently produce an influential U S Senator.

  10. drken says

    It’s a similar story everywhere. The big tuition increases go to sports, buildings, and administrators. The sports part is marketing. There’s a lot of good rocket science going on at the University of Alabama, but it’s football that everybody hears about. At least the Heath and Wellness centers are available to the general population of students, most of whom probably show up just to find out what a “wet climbing wall” is. From what I can gather from a quick Google search, it’s a climbing wall over a pool, so you fall into water instead of having ropes to catch you. Sounds like fun.

  11. Hemidactylus says

    drken @12
    When I visited my sister in Ardmore AL I was impressed when she took me to Marshall Space Flight Center having gone to KSC enough times to get completely burned out like with Disney World. I was already aware of the Paperclip problem lingering in the background. The Redstone history was cool. Huntsville was pretty cool in general. Nice malls.

    I get the Bama football obsession. Bear Bryant. Joe Namath. They have college sports. Full stop.

    Bo Jackson. Auburn. Yep! Damn.

    It might be mean to say it keeps them Bamans from naked wrestling wild hogs and noodling catfish, but they both are rivals of the Gators so fuck them. I’m not even a huge Gators fan. The Noles are more my team but the Bulldogs put them down this year and brutally. Ouch. So much for that lawsuit Desantis floated.

    This is horrific: https://georgiadogs.com/news/2023/12/30/football-bulldogs-rout-seminoles-63-3-in-orange-bowl

    I can’t watch much college football because being a cordcutter so fuck them all— ESPN, cable, and the NCAA, but I completely understand Alabama residents revering college sports if they can afford to watch. Is it on rabbit ears there?

    I watch NFL games now on rabbit ears and love it. Two TVs in the living room. But colleges feed the NFL. Maybe I’m part of the problem.

  12. rockwhisperer says

    Don’t know about the rest of the nation, but in California, we have serious administrative bloat at our state universities. All those people are there because of good intentions…but perhaps not well executed. I got my MS from San José State in 2011, and my adviser and his office mate, both nearing retirement, were very frustrated by the bloat, as well as by various demands to demonstrate to administration that they were teaching “the right things”. (As an aside, both men were brilliant instructors–SJSU is primarily a teaching university–and were both keeping their material fresh and yet teaching solidly. I remember the office mate’s last time teaching his signature class, looking over the classroom in dismay, because his usual student load of 15-20 people was far eclipsed by the 40 or so packing the room. But none of us was willing to forego one last class from the master. He actually had to schedule a second lab section.)

  13. Hemidactylus says

    To put some nuance on it PZ is possibly not aware what the Vikings and Timberwolves mean to his current state or Seahawks and SuperSonics in Washington. Alabama lacks that. My state has Bucs, Dolphins, Jaguars, Heat, Magic and some crappy pro
    baseball and hockey teams I could give two shits about. Yet the Noles, Gators, Hurricanes, Golden Knights, USF, FAMU, and almost every other school is still important. We are almost as nuts as Texas for high school football. Compare Alabama. Yeah. College football captures their pride and frankly Roll Tide is scary shit across NCAA opponents. Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban had words over stuff. That is not trivial in the least as silly as it sounds typing it!

  14. marner says

    To put some nuance on it PZ is possibly not aware what the Vikings and Timberwolves mean to his current state or Seahawks and SuperSonics in Washington

    That was just mean. But true.

  15. Hemidactylus says

    marner @16
    Ughh, I didn’t realize until deciphering your comment that the Sonics had left Seattle to become the Oklahoma City Thunder years ago. Seattle does have the Kraken I suppose.