Our “U” Should Be a Happy “U”?

When the Wall Street Journal questions management practices, everyone should perk up.  WSJ reviewed Benjamin Ginsberg’s The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, and deemed the book “bracing and darkly pleasurable.” Whether that is significantly different from pleasurable and darkly bracing I do not know, but I do know a few people who are braced for pleasure, expecting that pleasure to emanate from somewhere other than the all-administrative university.

Many people are pressed for time. If you cannot read the book, try the Bloggingheads.tv broadcast.  That broadcast will answer the question that is the title of this post, though you could guess the answer.

From 1975 to 2005, the costs of attending an American university tripled. During that period, faculty-to-student ratios stayed relatively constant, but administrator-to-student ratios ballooned. The number of administrators increased by 85%, and the number of staffers rose by 240%. Administrative salaries shot up as well. Today, 81 university presidents are paid more than half a million dollars a year, and 12 earn more than a million.

Creative Commons photo from ozvoldjj's photostream on Flickr

Dr. Ginsberg points out that many administrators do not teach.  Many of them collect large salaries. In recent budgetary “crises” at several public institutions of higher education in the state of Texas the past two years, administrators’ salaries went untouched as faculty and staff were fired — oops, reduced — and enrollments were increased, meaning, if you sent your children to one of the schools, those children would likely be in larger classes receiving less attention from qualified instructors than before.  The good news is that those children would not be taught by inept administrators, because administrators do not teach.

I wonder whether Dr. Ginsberg knows the story of the administrator, a vice-president, hired by Texas A&M University, named Alexander Kemos.  You would expect that a major university, one whose football team is about to move to the SEC, would screen carefully its top management people, especially a senior vice-president.  Among other things that the local newspaper in Bryan/College Station discovered is that Mr. Kemos claimed to be a Navy Seal, but somehow was not. It looks as if Mr. Kemos did not possess any graduate degrees for his $300,000 salary at A&M, though Mr. Kemos said he had a doctorate from Tufts.  No one checked.  Robert Gates, former head of the CIA and never a professor or a chair or a provost anywhere, used to be President at A&M in College Station, so one would think that A&M might know of ways to conduct background checks.  Background checks are required for staff and faculty hiring at most public institutions in Texas.  This does not seem to be true of administrative hiring.

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