Martin Center column examines higher ed’s administrative bloat

John Staddon writes for the Martin Center about the sources and impacts of administrative bloat on college campuses.

National statistics are hard to find, but there are plenty of individual examples of major changes in the structure of American universities and widespread concern about administrative growth: “The disproportionate increase in the number of university staffers who neither teach nor conduct research has continued unabated in more recent years, and slowed only slightly since the start of the economic downturn,” reported the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Some of these new administrative positions were a reaction to increased compliance requirements from the federal government. Others were just a result of the natural growth tendency of any bureaucracy. Still others were completely new operations which allowed administrators to act in ways that actually harm the intellectual mission of the university.

The causes are many. The oversupply of new PhDs has made available a labor force on short-term contracts willing to teach more cheaply than tenure-track faculty. In reaction, the tenure-track faculty, under constant pressure to crank out publications and compete for research grants, were for the most part happy to teach less. These same pressures also left them disinclined to push back against administrative growth. Focused on competition with peers in their disciplines, faculty were less and less concerned with incursions on their freedom so long as they got as much time as possible for research.

“Administration” became a dirty word; few faculty wanted to spend time on it. Those who did, tended to be less successful professionally and saw administration as a better bet than scholarly competition.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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