How to End Administrative Bloat in Higher Education: Getting rid of Deanlets and Dealings

I am the assistant vice provost to the chancellor for the assessment of best practices in learning excellence!

I am the assistant vice provost to the chancellor for the assessment of best practices in learning excellence!

It is refreshing to see that the issue of administrative bloat in higher education is beginning to get the attention it deserves, and that cool heads are seeing that the dramatic expansion of university administration is one of the most important factors driving rising tuition and fees over the last three decades. The recent study from the Delta Cost project shows that faculty salaries have been basically flat for the last decade, but administrative costs have increased dramatically. There is nothing wrong in modern education. The model of the multiversity, put forward by Clark Kerr in the early 1960s, and exemplified by the growing excellence of large public universities, worked to make American higher education the best in the world. The way that occurred was to emulate the “best practices” of both liberal arts colleges and top-flight research universities. Make regular students learn by putting them into disciplinary regimes defined by the standards of excellence in a given area of arts, sciences, or humanities. Encourage teachers to innovate in the classroom, so that what matters is not some unpalatable gruel derived from textbooks written by marginal scholars, but instead flows from the expertise of the professor and gives students something unique and meaningful–and forces the student to demonstrate mastery in way appropriate to specific disciplines. Fast forward 50 years and Clark Kerr’s vision is under full bore assault, even at his beloved UC-Berkeley.

The forces claiming that higher education is not doing its job are a gaggle of right wing think tanks, and the associated organizations of university administrators who articulate a vision for reform and mediocrity. Of course, nobody in the “think tanks” has ever actually been a tenured professor at a real research university, and almost nobody in the associations of administrators ever deserved to be tenured on any faculty of repute. So, we have political ideologues in league with minor league “scholars” who resent their former colleagues’ condescension regarding their failed or nonexistent research agendas. No, those eggheads must PAY. We’ll make them pay in the way that hits them the hardest. We’ll make them go to meetings where they have to listen to us drone on about whatever academic fads got us a job as a deanlet. Then, we’ll make them jump through hoops to teach their courses or do their research, because we can. Because we are the associate vice dean/provost of student/research affairs. Even though in our brief and inglorious careers in the professoriate (before being denied tenure or barely making it) students hated us and we never did any research of merit.

Now that this issue has gained traction, it would be really nice if organized groups like the AAUP, faculty unions, and the like, would pull together to push for real and meaningful change. I have a few suggestions:

1. Eliminate most “advising” and “student support” positions. The only advising being done should be accomplished either by computer programs or by directors of undergraduate studies in departments. Colleges will need to retain a few advisors, but only a few even at very large universities. There is absolutely no reason for a student to have any questions about what she needs to finish a major or minor, and she should be able to check what she needs on-line at any time. You want to add a Philosophy major? Click on “add second major” enter PHIL and up should pop the courses you need to take in order to get that degree, along with maybe highlights for which courses are offered next semester. We can do this, and we can eliminate lots of deanlings in the process. Second, make all student programming functions localized in university housing and student life. What we have done is to make bureaucracies full of out of touch, highly compensated administrators who then try to micromanage student programming in a way that only turns off the students. Let the RA’s and their immediate supervisors tap the desires of the students, and leave it at that—at my university this would lop off about 30 middle deanlet level positions.

2. Eliminate all “teaching support” positions with the exception of essential AV and test support technical personnel. Each week at my humble university an highly compensated deanlet gives a workshop attended by maybe 8 or 10 other administrators and maybe a brown-nosing permanent associate professor in the humanities or two purporting to help us learn how to teach. The workshop is invariably taught by some marginal person with no experience with university teaching, and most of ours are ABD from our department of workforce education or higher ed administration. This circle jerk of teaching geeks creating more administration needs to end, those people don’t even know how to teach, and they have no business having their own bureaucracies.

3. Eliminate all “assessment” bureaucracies. We give grades. That’s how we can tell you how much “learning” was done in our courses. The idea that established professors at research universities much be “held accountable!!!!!” for “what your students learn” is a bunch of offensive right wing activism, and it has spurred massive, resource sucking bureaucracies.

4. Revoke the notion of in loco parentis control over students, and reduce legal and policing staff. The Clery act does not mean that we are responsible for all crimes on campus, nor can we be. The spirit of the act is better served by publishing actual crime statistics from the precincts in which our universities reside–not excluding crimes committed directly off of our property, as we do. We don’t need some complicated bureaucracy to do that, and one public safety person should be able to coordinated with local and regional officials to provide arrest and report data. Campus security should focus on locked doors (which is what was wrong with Lehigh) and crowd control for events. Local communities should be on notice to increase their public safety force, and universities may have to coordinate a transition away from the university police state.

5. Eliminate the privatization model that has prevented universities from accomplishing marketing, institutional research, information technology, routine maintenance, landscaping, book sales, and food services. We have sold out our universities to private contractors, and they are killing us. We are being charged enormous prices for crappy services, and they often rip off our students in the process. My humble university gave away our bookstore to Follett, which now gouges our students and is more difficult to work with for faculty. We’ve eliminated good jobs for locals in the university book store and in our food services and maintenance, and instead have that contracted to fascist fast food giants like Chic Fil A, so now our students get bad food at a high price and they have no choice, and the locals employed there have no benefits and minimal pay. We’ve reduced our maintenance staff to the point that the trash in our office is only picked up weekly, and the toilets don’t flush very well in our building. Yet, we pay MILLIONS to contractors to perform other services and build nice shiny things for the administrators.

6. Slash football by 75%. This alone will solve most of the problems with Athletics. Most of the bloat is in salaries for athletic administration. Cut it to the core. At most schools, nobody cares about football, it’s just an albatross.

7. Dramatically reduce “classroom technology” expenditures, and focus only on general technologies and support. Nobody uses R2D2 or whatever the latest academic fad is. None of the smart boards actually worked, and we don’t have the maintenance and support staff in place to make them work even if people wanted to use them….which they don’t. Buy shit the faculty want, not shit that administrators got enticed into buying at an all expenses paid conference in Dubai or Hawaii sponsored by Pearsons or some other parasitic company.

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One Response to “How to End Administrative Bloat in Higher Education: Getting rid of Deanlets and Dealings”

  1. Casey Says:

    I definitely agree with the point about the advising positions. I’m sure that there’s plenty of between-institution variability, but at some schools a lot of counselors actually do a worse job than a decent webpage would at advising students on which courses to take for a particular degree and when to take them.

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