Figure 1. The percentage of part-time and full-time faculty in the United States as reported to the American Association of University Professors.
The last two weeks we have examined the important issue of where university tuition really goes. The first week, I showed you data that clearly identifies inflation as insufficient to account for the astronomical increase in what we pay. The second week, I showed you that increases in professor salaries were also not a sufficient explanation. I then ended by identifying university administrators and managers as a group of employees who have steadily increased in number over recent years. Today, let’s talk about who these people are and what they do.
Thirty years ago, universities basically provided two services: teaching and living (think dorms with cafeterias). Today, they provide a much wider range of services including research, community outreach, and even entertainment (think of university sports teams). Many of these services are provided and marketed like a business, with the intention of making money. This is where many of the administrators come in. They are the people who oversee the implementation and execution of these various programs.
There are, however, two problems with this system. The first is that many university programs actually do NOT turn a profit. Sports programs in the United States are the most common example targeted when discussing this subject. American football teams are a staple of the university lifestyle but it turns out only a very small percentage of schools, those with the most successful teams, actually make any money off of the royalties from television sponsorship and ticket sales. Virtually 99% of all other schools are actually placing a loss by paying for the coaching, recruitment, new facilities and equipment that allow them to compete in the tournaments with highest television viewership. This monetary loss is also true for other sports, especially those the general public isn’t interested in paying to see. The average state university in the United States supports from 20 to 40 different sports teams, most of them without a paying audience.
So why this emphasis on losing money? One of the reasons has to do with the business mindset of many university administrators. They view sports programs not only as a source of entertainment and activity for students but also as a marketing device. Some administrators even view sports as an investment, hoping to use the news of “our sports team won second place!” to attract more students to enroll. This is a very business-minded thing to do, something people with MBAs and other business degrees are laboriously taught: that any publicity is good publicity. But being a scientist, I have to take a step back and ask the obvious question: has it been shown this type of advertising really increases enrollment (or even the quality of enrollment)? The answer from various studies is a resounding “no”. Survey-based research we have conducted at the University of Minnesota has shown the success of sports teams is rarely a factor when students choose their school. And yet, the University of Minnesota recently built a new stadium costing over US$300 million.
The second issue with administrative takeover of universities is much more serious. Forty years ago, virtually all decisions about classes and course content were made by faculty. In the last few decades, new regulations and government oversight have resulted in the institution of management systems to oversee what professors teach and in some cases how they teach it. These management systems were most commonly implemented with a core goal: to make universities more profitable. Not surprisingly, the people who were put in charge of these institutions were people from business, with MBAs or other business degrees.
One of the first things businessmen are taught to do to increase profit is cut spending. And this is exactly what has been happening on virtually every university campus throughout the world for the last 20-some years. Administrators have been cutting the number of full-time faculty and increasing the number of cheaper (and often less qualified) faculty [Figure 1]. Part-time and adjunct faculty are cheaper not only because they get paid by the hour but also because they do not receive benefits such as health care and retirement. All of these considerations make them cheaper and many schools purposely refuse to give faculty full-time status so they don’t have to pay these costs. This often forces faculty to get extra jobs to make ends meet, depressing the quality of their teaching even further. And all the while, the administrators themselves not only retain their full-time positions and full benefits (with higher salaries than faculty, on average), they also get paid bonuses for reducing the university’s bottom line.
1300 1300 88