The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Bureaucrats write memoranda both because they appear to be busy when they are writing and because the memos, once written, immediately become proof that they were busy.... ...Charles Peters.
Commentary of the Day - April 16, 2000: The Growth of the Administrata:
The Irascible Professor never ceases to be amazed at the growth of administration in higher education here in California.  As an example in point, the number of full-time equivalent students1 in the California State University system grew by about 11,000 from the 1998/99 academic year to the 1999/2000 academic year.  In absolute terms the number of full-time equivalent students rose from about 268,000 statewide to about 279,000.  This translates to a growth rate of about 4.1%.

At the same time the number of employees in the "Management Personnel Plan" (i.e. managers) rose from 2725 to 2970, an increase of nearly 9%.  About a decade ago the system had about 8 managers per 1000 full time equivalent students.  This ratio has grown to 10.6 managers per 1000 full time equivalent students.

Unfortunately, although the California State University grew by about 11,000 full time equivalent students from 98/99 to 99/00, it received funding from the state only for an additional 8,300 students ($52.5 million).  Since each new manager costs the system about $100,000 in salary and benefits, about $24.5 million of that $52.5 million went to fund these new managers.  Folks, that means that 47% of the money the system received to accommodate growth in enrollment actually went to fund desk jockeys and paper pushers who never enter a classroom or teach a student.

The Chancellor's Office, which is separate from any of the 23 campuses of the system, employs 258 or 8.7% of all the California State University managers.

The question that California legislators and taxpayers should be asking is the following:  Does the California State University system and its 23 individual campuses operate any more efficiently with this surfeit of managers than it did a decade or two ago with far fewer administrators per full time equivalent student?

The Irascible Professor thinks not!  As the number of administrators at the Chancellor's Office and on the campuses grows, decision making has become much more centralized.  Management in the system now is far more "top-down" than "bottom-up".  While the central administration frequently solicits input from campus administrators and even from faculty and student representatives, it often listens without hearing.  This is not to imply any malevolence on the part of the central administration (although at times the Chancellor has seemed unduly pugnacious with respect to his views of how the system should operate).  However, it is a reflection of the growth of a new class of administrator within the system.

In the past most university administrators earned their stripes in combat, so to speak.  They had earned their degrees in solid academic subjects, and they had distinguished themselves either in teaching or research or both.  More than likely, they had worked their way up through the ranks of academic departments, serving as department chairs and school deans.  One thinks of some of the great college and university presidents of the past -- Gaylord P. Harnwell at Penn, Lee DuBridge at Caltech, Clark Kerr at Berkeley -- in this regard.  Indeed, at some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in America one can still find administrators with distinguished academic credentials.

Unfortunately, too many of today's administrators -- particularly those who work in the less prestigious colleges and universities -- come from a different mold.  Their degrees have been earned not in solid academic disciplines, but rather in the fuzzy and fluffy disciplines of the graduate schools of education.  More and more often their highest degrees are in "higher education".  These people have gone to graduate school not with the idea of becoming a teacher or a scholar, but with the idea of becoming an administrator.  They tend to look at the university as a business to be managed rather than as a community of scholars and students to be led.

Unfortunately, people with this kind of training only can manage.  They cannot lead.  The cultural divide between them and the faculty and students who do the real work of the university is too great.  Without significant scholarly credentials this kind of administrator cannot command the respect of the faculty, and without significant teaching experience cannot understand the students.  Because of the lack of mutual respect and understanding, this kind of administrator resorts more often than not to a "top-down" managerial style that was typical of the large corporations of a generation ago.  However, he or she fails to realize that the successful businesses of today are the ones that listen to (and hear) both their employees and their customers.  The result is that our universities are not more efficient than they were in past decades, and they certainly are not more effective.

That is what the Irascible Professor thinks.  If you have a different view, let us know.
1Most students in the California State University system do not take a full load of classes because they must work to earn enough money to attend school.  The "full time equivalent" is a rubric that accounts for this difference.

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