As the school year ends we at Cyborgology thought it fitting to publish our first-ever anonymous contribution. We all have varying opinions about the views stated below but we did agree that these are ideas worth putting out there for discussion.
To Whom It May Concern:
If it is your job to keep track and rank institutions of higher education and publish that data in venues like U.S. News & World Report or the Princeton Review, I have a simple request for you. Please start keeping track of institutions’ administrator to faculty ratios and, in your proprietary ranking formulas, reduce the numerical rank of institutions with a low ratio. The reasoning here is equally straightforward: putting more emphasis on administrative work than actual teaching and research is detrimental to student outcomes.
I wish I could say there was lots of data to back this up but, sadly, researchers are reticent to publish findings that are directly hostile to their bosses. Still though, there are preliminary findings that are worth paying attention to. For starters, a 2014 report by the Institute for Policy Studies found that within public universities high president salaries and high administrative spending overall, correlated positively with high student debt, high reliance on part-time adjunct hiring, and sharp declines in permanent tenure-track faculty. You already keep track of graduating students’ debt and the percentage of adjunct professors in the faculty pool so why not track what seems to be a predictive variable for both of those things?
If you don’t trust the non-partisan IPP, then listen to former administrators themselves. Jon Weiner, in reporting on the IPP study, interviewed William R. Schonfeld, former dean of social sciences and emeritus professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine who stated unequivocally: “The motor force behind these trends is the hiring of ‘professional administrators’ whose primary commitment is to their own careers and advancement.” Their value to the overall mission of their institutions, according to Schonfeld, is negligible if not deleterious.
Whether high administrative pay actually causes adjunctification of faculty or high student debt, does not matter. Correlation should be enough cause to include an administrator-to-faculty ratio because what that number truly represents is another data point in a larger, overdetermined trend of neoliberal education. It is a trend that, I say with respect, you are deeply implicated in. From lavish student centers to million-dollar sports stadiums, it has been your rankings that let universities compare one-another in the first place. It is not too late to use your massive influence to reverse this trend of debt and frustration. Students should be comfortable, and sports are fun, but university administration should be a solemn duty not a business opportunity.
Administration used to be a part-time task that was rotated between faculty. Now part-time faculty rotate in and out of employment under an ever-growing cast of full-time administrators. From my vantage point as a young scholar looking for my first full-time job I cannot help but notice that many universities, even as the recession fades, are hiring dozens of administrators with sentence-long titles but very few entry-level, tenure track professors. Even post doctorate positions—what should be on-the-job training for emerging researchers and teachers—are including administrative duties as part of their job calls. Enough is enough.
At first I was ashamed to write this anonymously. I wanted to stand for what I believe in and for the community I love. Now though, I feel as though anonymity articulates something more fundamental to this problem: a bottoming out of a strong and independent community of free thinkers. Job security in the academy has gotten so bad that even stating basic facts about the nature of our work like I have done above, something that would be an obviously indispensable part of any social scientific investigation, is enough to put me at the bottom of ever-growing piles of qualified job applicants.
What you measure, matters. It literally made a thousand flowers bloom when you started tracking campus aesthetics and it determined the livelihoods of countless academics who have tried to navigate the perverse incentives your metrics produce. I am not asking you to stop ranking universities (although maybe that is what we, in the end, really need) but I am asking that you think of your rankings in a self-reflective manner. Include things that may mitigate the unintended consequences of your prior actions. An administrator-to-faculty ratio would give faculty a chance to govern themselves again. It was under shared governance, between faculty and a handful of full-time administrators, that made American education the best in the world. Help us keep it that way.