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B.S. economics: while cash-strapped universities cut teachers, classes, and whole departments, they're ignoring all those managers in the Office of Public Relations.

Yale and Washington University in St. Louis don't have a whole lot in common-that is, until you look at their ledgers, Last year, both universities laid plans to lop off entire academic departments to help keep the rest of the ship afloat. But their club didn't remain exclusive for long. Columbia, Stanford, and San Diego State University, among others, are also likely to cut academic programs in upcoming years to make up for huge deficits.

The recession has shown up on campuses around the country and settled in alongside the class of '96. Tuitions are up, profs scarcer, and classes larger. The average cost of a four-year private college increased 7 percent this fall to a record $10,498. At public schools, the increase was 10 percent, and during the last decade annual fees at public four-year colleges soared, from an average of $738 to $1,880. Meanwhile, the return on the investment dwindled: Last fall, half of all four-year public universities surveyed by the American Council on Education increased introductory class sizes and reduced the number of courses or sections offered. The result? Fewer students are able to get enough credits to graduate on time, and those forced to stay longer must pay more.

Angry about the trend, students and their families are demanding to know where the money goes. The official answer administrators give is that universities are "labor intensive." They are, of course, but this response also masks one of the dirtiest little secrets on campus today: Despite rising costs and shrinking resources, many more people are making a living off colleges and universities now than 10 years ago. And most of these new people don't deal directly with students at all.

A 1990 Department of Education study shows that between 1975 and 1985, while the nation's total number of four-year students increased by only 7 percent, the number of non-academic "professionals" at colleges and universities --a category that includes such pillars of academe as accountants, lawyers, and systems analysts--increased by an astounding 61 percent. During the same period, the number of full-time faculty members increased by only 6 percent. And as it was for bodies, so it was for dollars. In the eighties, administrative budgets grew 26 percent faster than did those for faculty. Nevertheless, administrators are now busily panng where they should cut last--the classroom--instead of turning the shears on the real area of excessive growth: themselves.


Consider the crowd that has assembled in recent years in the president's office at George Washington University (GW): In addition to the president himself, there's his personal assistant, his special assistant, the special assistant for public affairs, two administrative assistants, an executive aide, and a senior clerk. Then there's the GW Multicultural Student Services Center, featuring a multiculturalism director, an associate director, an outreach coordinator, and two senior secretanes. Equally overpopulated is GW's Office of University Relations. Back in 1982 when it was called the Office of Public Relations, there were just two main positions: director and assistant director. But now, aside from an office manager and a handful of secretaries, the office employs a director of university relations, a director of communications, a public relations specialist, and two public information specialists.

Meanwhile, at nearby Johns Hopkins University, there's the "Wellness Center." Its entire mission is something called "coordination." All the services the center is involved with--such as stress management counseling and date rape workshops--were at one time administered by the offices that actually provide these services. In other words, the Wellness Center is no more than a Department of Meetings. And at Washington's Howard University, despite the fact that administrative staff was cut by nearly 15 percent last year, there is still one administrator for every five students.

Admittedly, some of the administrative buildup in the eighties was necessary. Increased threat of litigation prompted larger security forces and more lawyers; more stringent health and safety regulations meant more inspectors on campus; and intensified competition for a declining pool of students spawned additional officials in admissions and public relations. But no matter how labor-intensive a university might be, one would expect that the recent computerization of tedious, formerly manual tasks such as registration and billing would have reduced the number of administrative employees. It hasn't.

There's little mystery about why administrative bloat is the last to go when colleges start cutting costs. The managers simply don't relish the idea of taking back privileges they granted themselves during the healthy-budget eighties. "The administrators are doing the cutting, and naturally the administration is not the first place they look to cut," observes Barbara Bergmann, president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). As if to illustrate that point, Tom Otwell, a public relations officer at the University of Maryland at College Park, sniffs, "The administration should not be singled out for savings any more than a subscription to an obscure but important academic journal." But hold on---over the last decade, Otwell's school has witnessed a 38 percent increase in administrative staff and a 67 percent jump in professional staff. (Have we mentioned the full-time glass blower?) Meanwhile, the faculty grew by only 10 percent. All this while total enrollment dropped.

Not only have staff rolls gotten fatter, but so have administrative paychecks. In 1990-91, the median salary for all college and university chancellors was $95,500, nearly double the 1981-82 figure of $52,000. And nowadays, staff salaries and benefits consume the lion's share of budget outlays--up to 70 percent at some schools.

While some of the benefits are justified, the extravagant abuses that have been recently reported are not. Consider the crafty maneuvering in 1990 by Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds of the California State University. Reynolds sought to purchase six new cars to placate her vice chancellors, who were suffering the indignity of having to check vehicles out of a motor pool. But because the state was cracking down on faculty expenses at state universities, purchases of more than $100,000 had to be reported to the government. Reynolds thought it unwise to attract attention to herself---especially since she was also giving the vice chancellors salary raises of 15 to 25 percent. So she bought six Ford Tauruses at a total cost of $99,998.70.

With a logic familiar to observers of congressional pay raises and fat-cat tax breaks, Peter Linkins, president of Lehigh University, defends astronomical salaries and other benefits by pointing out the small impact their elimination would have on the bottom line. In an operation of Lehigh's size, says Linkins, "eliminate a vice president and you haven't even touched the cost." Eliminate a slew of vice presidents, on the other hand, and your freshmen may be able to take Introductory Art History in a class with fewer than 200 students.

Still, some administrators are so committed to preserving the system that they are willing to defy the law. The Maine legislature tried to target high-paid bureaucrats at the University of Maine last year by trimming 5.5 percent from all salaries higher than $50,000. This was after the school's board of trustees had decided to exempt its employees from the mandates of earlier budget cuts, awarding pay raises to a significant number of the highest paid U of M bigshots. Thus, despite the new budgetary restrictions, the school's board continued to dole out pay hikes to administrators--while cutting class sections and reducing student services.

Luxe et veritas

Administrators defend classroom cuts by arguing that faculty salaries are the main reason for budget woes--and hence the main reason tuitions are rising. The press has echoed their argument, pointing an accusatory finger at superstar faculty members and their superstar salaries. While it is true that full professors at Harvard make, on average, nearly $90,000, that's way above the average academic's pay. In fact, after factoring in inflation, the average salary a professor received in 1989-90--$39,965--was actually $200 lower than the average for 1972-73.

Faculty at the University of Virginia, for example, took a 2 percent pay cut in December 1990. But at least they have jobs; at San Diego State University (SDSU), 1,000 faculty members have been fired or given "early retirement" by the university and 22 courses were recently shifted to the school's extension program (where teachers are often not faculty members). Meanwhile, SDSU's enrollment dropped as students were unable to get the classes they wanted; surviving faculty members, for their part, often drastically stretched their class sizes. "You would be happy to sit on the floor for the semester--at least that meant you got into the class," says SDSU student Merek Findling. The cutbacks at SDSU mirror the plight of the rest of the widely respected California State University system. The $300 million in budget cuts this year, a more than 7 percent reduction, have jacked up the fees for in-state students by 70 percent, and at the same time fewer class sections are being offered.

At Yale, retrenchments have prompted administrators to plan an 11 percent cutback in faculty, a merging of three engineering departments into one, and the elimination of the entire linguistics department. At Washington University in St. Louis, the sociology department and school of dentistry have already been phased out. No school, however, has come close to the desperation exhibited by Cal State Long Beach, where some 50 volunteers in 1991 taught classes previously led by professors.

Of course, trimming faculty occasionally makes sense. Some professors make too much money, and others teach only one or two courses a year. (And in some cases, the courses they do offer might be better left out of the curriculum: One Temple University professor, for example, offers "UFOs in American Society," in which assignments include viewing movies such as The Thing; and one Brigham Young University scholar put together a course titled "Household Equipment" to teach students to master the "selection... operation, and care of household equipment.")

Even so, budget-cutters should never be allowed to forget a basic maxim: Students need teachers more than they need administrators. Faculty cutbacks not only affect students through larger classes, fewer offerings, and less one-on-one faculty contact, but also hamper the administrators' most important long-term goals: making money and staying alive. Reducing the number of teachers is simply bad marketing--no student wants to pay large tuition bills to sit in the back of a 600-seat lecture hall and listen to a teaching assistant drone over a PA system.

Some schools are finally getting the point--sort of. Last academic year, Middlebury College eliminated 41 support staffers, and George Mason University abolished 180 similar staff positions--but note: Most of those were secretaries, not $40,000 special assistants.

What's perhaps most frustrating about administrative self-protection at American universities is that the few institutions that have taken the plunge have discovered--surprise, surprise--that administrative austerity isn't the end of higher education as we know it. Consider the University of Virginia (UVa). During two years of budget cutbacks totalling $74 million, the frugal state university was forced to put a freeze on filling many of its vacant administrative slots. It now has two fewer vice presidents in its office of business and finance, one less director in its communications office, and 200 fewer miscellaneous administrative staffers on campus. Despite the smaller staff, President John Casteen III is pleased. "It is a considerable lesson to discover," he admitted, "that one third of the people you no longer have really were not necessary to the academic operation of the university." The AAUP's Bergmann believes many schools could safely follow UVa's lead: "In my view you could take a substantial whack from administration, and universities wouldn't be worse off--they'd be better off."
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Author:Bowermaster, David
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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