Sharing the burden of university bloat

Administrative bloat is a disservice to students, and it hurts many faculty. members.

by Luis Ruuska

Though administrators themselves have contested the issue, nearly everyone agrees that administrative bloat is a very bad thing.

Colleges dole out higher tuition prices and consequently higher debt to students. While the effects of administrative bloat on students are by no means minimal, faculty members have it far worse.

A January 2014 report from the House Committee on Education and the Workforce revealed just how damaging administrative bloat has been to faculty across the nation.

Four decades ago, contingent professors only made up about 18 percent of the instruction workforce, which includes adjunct and non-tenure-track professors, postdoctoral fellows, some graduate students and other part-time faculty.

Today, the amount of contingent faculty in the instruction workforce has ballooned by more than 300 percent, and now 1.3 million part-time faculty make up about 75 percent of the total U.S. instruction workforce.

Why the influx? Universities can cheaply hire contingent faculty in bulk.

Instead of receiving a base salary like full-time faculty, part-time faculty members receive payment per course, which is often low.

The Coalition on the Academic Workforce estimates the median pay for a standard three-credit course is $2,700.

The House Committee found similar results with its subject pool and found that per year, the median earnings of part-time faculty was $22,041, about half the median for full-time faculty at $47,500.

In order to break even with full-time faculty, part-time faculty would need to increase their course load to at least 17 courses per year.

One of the most shocking findings of the report, however, was how underpaid part-time faculty are relative to their education. About one in three respondents held a master’s degree, and a whopping 55 percent had a Ph.D.

The ramifications stemming from this gross manipulation of faculty positions across higher education ultimately perpetuate this type of part-time culture, which transfers to students as well.

Because part-time faculty are likely focused on staying financially afloat through teaching as many courses as possible, they have little time to research and publish to further their career. This reduces the value of a university as a whole.

Additionally, universities often hire part-time faculty on a semester-to-semester basis, which reduces their job stability. This denies students the opportunity to develop meaningful, crucial and long-term connections with some academic mentors in their field.

As students, it’s very easy to forget we’re not alone on campus. The faculty we share this university with are instrumental to our success. What hurts them hurts us as well.

Although students and faculty may have few common issues, administrative bloat is one problem that we can only tackle through collaborative effort.

We’re better than this. We shouldn’t have to cut corners when it comes to our faculty in order to cut costs.

Those cuts need to come from administrators. Sooner or later, university leaders must acknowledge this. The longer they stay silent, the longer everyone else suffers.