In the two decades from 1985 to 2005, student enrollment in the US rose by 56 per cent, faculty numbers increased by 50 per cent, degree-granting institutions expanded by 50 per cent, degrees granted grew by 47 per cent, administrators rocketed by 85 per cent and their attendant staff by a whopping 240 per cent, reports the Times Education Supplement.
“The obvious question is – why? Have students become so needy that a university needs not only a “dean of student life” but several associate deans, assistant deans and a plethora of deanlets – Ginsberg’s coinage of the term “deanlet” is wonderfully offensive – to cater to their whims and shield them from the temptations of booze, drugs and illicit sex? Have we become so trapped by information technology that we need an IT officer apiece in order to function?
“A common explanation of the growth in administrative numbers, both in the US and the UK, is that government demands for information and an increasingly complicated regulatory environment make it impossible to manage with fewer administrative staff than institutions actually employ. Ginsberg doesn’t deny that some growth in numbers could be accounted for in this way, but he argues, I think rightly, that most cannot.
“Because the US has a genuinely private and a genuinely public higher education sphere, it’s possible to compare administrative growth across the sectors; and because public universities and colleges are vastly more tightly regulated than private universities and colleges, it ought to be the case that they have added far more administrators. In the 30 years from 1975 to 2005, the reverse was true. Administrative and managerial staff grew by 66 per cent in the state sector against 135 per cent in the private sector.
“Ginsberg’s view is Malthusian. Administrators breed unless checked. The process is familiar, and both Peter Oppenheimer at the University of Oxford and Iain Pears at King’s College London have had something to say on the subject in a British context. Academic prestige comes from publishing, winning awards for excellent teaching, getting research grants and doing interesting research. Administrative prestige is measured by the number of “reports” an administrator has, which is to say, how many people report to them. Deans need associate deans, assistant deans, deanlets and a bevy of secretarial staff, less to achieve anything truly useful than to enhance their prestige – and their salaries, because one’s pay goes up in proportion to the number of staff one directs.
“It would be bad enough if the administrators were simply unproductive. As Ginsberg says, given the high cost of tuition and board and lodging in US universities, wasting money is a sin against students and their parents who foot the bills. But The Fall of the Faculty regards many presidents, provosts, deans and their underlings as positively dangerous to the academic enterprise of teaching and research. Because he has had a very good time digging for dirt, he doesn’t perhaps distinguish as carefully as he might between what goes wrong when administrators engage in criminal behaviour and what goes wrong when they behave impeccably. So far as the first goes, lying on a resume is the most common offence, followed by misappropriating funds and buying real estate on the university’s penny. Assorted sexual peccadilloes have been in the news lately, but Ginsberg doesn’t stray into News of the World territory. He hardly needs to, as there are plenty of non-prurient but jaw-droppingly awful tales to tell.”