"The incompetent with nothing to do can still make a mess of it."  ....Laurence J. Peter.

Commentary of the Day - July 14, 2011: Where Has All The Money Gone?   Guest commentary by Ralph D. Westfall.

[ Ed. Note: In the immediate aftermath of the CSU Board of Trustees approving a salary of $400,000 -- 25% more than his predecessor was paid -- for the new President of San Diego State University on July 12, 2011, this piece is particularly appropriate.]

Higher education is very important to California -- to the students, to their parents, to the employers who hire the graduates, and to the people and organizations that fund the portion of the costs that is not covered by tuition.  Therefore it is extremely important that educational funding be spent as efficiently as possible, and even more so in this time of financial distress.

I have taught at two campuses in the California State University system since 1998.  My personal experiences at those schools raised concerns about administrative practices.  Further research revealed statistics that all the stakeholders should be aware of, because of their effects on both the cost and quality of the education we provide.

For example, based on data in the California State University Statistical Abstract, the number of full-time faculty in the whole CSU system rose from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, an increase of only 3.5 percent.  In the same time period the total number of administrators rose 221 percent, from 3,800 to 12,183.  In 1975, there were three full time faculty members per administrator, but now there are actually slightly more administrators than full-time faculty.  If this trend continues, there could be two administrators per full-time faculty in another generation.

I currently teach at Cal Poly in Pomona, where the trends for the whole system also are visible.  In 1984 we had 90 "Management Personnel Plan" employees, but in 2010 there were 132.  Based on data provided by the chief financial officer, the total compensation of those employees, including fringe benefits, was $20.6 million in 2010.

To put this total into perspective, if the administrators were reduced by 42 to return to the same level as in 1984, the university could hire over 50 full-time faculty (who are typically paid less than administrators).  These additional faculty could teach over 300 additional classes per year, which would make it easier for students to graduate in a more timely fashion.  The additional instructors would also make it unnecessary to eliminate academic programs as is currently being proposed.

Another way of looking at this administrative growth is to frame it in the context of tuition.  Reducing the administrators to 1984 levels would make it possible to reduce tuition and fees for our enrollment of over 17,000 by almost $400 per year per student.

It appears that the CSU is following the pattern, identified by C. Northcote Parkinson, of bureaucracies growing over time.  Parkinson identifies "two motive forces" for this: "Factor I.  An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals; and Factor II.  Officials make work for each other." ("Parkinson's Law," The Economist, November 19, 1955).  Although the article is a satire rather than a serious academic study, Parkinson's observations are widely recognized as being consistent with patterns seen in many organizational settings.

Recent public statements by the Cal Poly Pomona Provost, Marten denBoer suggest a similar inclination to favor administrative positions, even at the expense of academic programs. He told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin’s education blog:

"We must … invest the university's diminished resources in programs that meet the highest standards of academic quality … we believe it is in the best interests of the department and college to close the [fine arts option] program."

He expressed similar sentiments in the Los Angeles Times: "plenty of smaller programs, such as philosophy and history, may be on the chopping block."

On the other hand in regard to administrative positions, the Times article reported him saying:

"administrative functions will be reviewed and probably pared, but he rejects the argument that significant cuts can be made in that area.  "The lights have to stay on, and someone has to maintain the computer system," he said.  "These are people who work very hard and have to be properly compensated."

 

Leaving aside the question about whether our Provost thinks his faculty work very hard or not, note that the statement about lights staying on is misleading.  As shown in the following table, by far the greatest growth in CSU employment has been in administrative positions rather than operational employees.  Several categories of non-teaching personnel, including the service and maintenance workers who actually handle the lighting, declined substantially in the 1975-2009 period:

Total CSU Full and Part-Time Employment: 1975-2009

 

Change

% Change

Service and Maintenance

-1,090

-33

Clerical and Secretarial

-1,975

-29

Technical and Paraprofessional

-141

-4

Skilled Crafts

162

+18

Faculty (49% part-time)

5,175

+28

Managerial and Professional

8,383

+221

Total

10,514

+29

Source: California State University – Statistical Abstract – 2008-2009

Table 166: Ethnicity and Gender of Total CSU Employees by Occupational Group, 1975-1976 through 2008-2009  (http://www.calstate.edu/as/stat_abstract/stat0809/pdf/z7a09.pdf)

In the same period as the table above, total full-time-equivalent student enrollment increased by 54 percent (Table 2 in the Statistical Abstract).

The CSU is doing a great job for California.  For every $1 invested by the state, it generates $5.43 for the state's economy (Working for California: The Impact of the California State University System, Office of the Chancellor, May 2010, p. ix, http://www.calstate.edu/impact/docs/CSUImpactsReport.pdf).  However it can't continue to do so without adequate funding.  The recent funding cuts need to be reversed.  But then the restored funding needs to go where it will do the most good -- into teaching rather than into more administrative empire-building.

(The PowerPoint presentation at http://www.csupomona.edu/~rdwestfall/bloat.ppt includes charts illustrating some of the issues referenced in this article.)

2011, Ralph D. Westfall.
______________________________________________________
Ralph D. Westfall  is a professor in the Computer Information Systems Department at California Polytechnic University, Pomona.

The Irascible Professor comments: Sadly, it's been over a decade since The Irascible Professor published our first article on administrative bloat in higher education, with no improvement in the intervening decade.  The number of administrative positions in colleges and universities in general, and in the California State University system in particular continues to grow at an obscene rate that far outstrips the growth in the number of students or the number of faculty and support staff members.  From my 37 years in the CSU system, I can attest to the fact that a fairly high percentage of these additional administrators are overpaid and underworked.  They contribute little to the mission of the university system, but they add much to the cost of operating the system.  And, worse yet they add to the workload of the people -- faculty and staff members who actually do the work of the university.  There are those administrators who work hard, and who do contribute to the education of our students.  However, a good 25% or more of the members of the "administrata" are redundant, and their positions could be eliminated without any damage to the system at all.


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