University buildings with trees
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Martin Center column depicts university pandemic power grab

Neetu Arnold writes for the Martin Center about some university administrators’ dubious response to COVID-19.

Universities’ profligate spending habits have caught up with them after substantial losses in student enrollments due to COVID-19. As undergraduate enrollment fell by 4.4 percent and students had fewer “on-campus experiences,” universities desperately began laying off employees. Some even have plans to consolidate departments and entire campuses.

Those actions spell trouble for the future of the shared governance tradition on American campuses.

Shared governance allows faculty to participate in determining university priorities pertaining to administrative hires, education policies, and the budget. Faculty participation in university governance allows academic and educational interests to have a seat at the decision-making table. While shared governance has already been steadily weakened over the past several decades due to concerning trends such as adjunctification and administrative bloat, it could face its final crisis as universities consolidate and centralize power in response to the pandemic. …

… Even during these financially difficult times, however, colleges continued to hire diversity officers, who often make six-figure salaries. Northwestern University recently named a new chief diversity officer, despite laying off nearly 90 staff members. The University of Iowa College of Law hired its first diversity director while the University of Pennsylvania created a vice president for social equity and community position. Colgate University is currently searching for a diversity officer.

University executives have not taken substantial enough pay cuts to make up for revenue losses. Nor have they cut mid-level administrators in departments like student affairs or development. That reluctance has meant making the extreme decision to slash tenured faculty positions.

Adjunct and non-tenured faculty, who have little-to-no job security, are usually the first to go when times are tough. But during the pandemic, cuts to tenured faculty were not off the table. …

… When administrators are a growing proportion of employees, relative to academic faculty, university decisions will skew more toward their interests.

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...