Administration size is stable, sane

The University community is ripe with critics of the administration. Supporters of the traditional land-grant college bemoan the ubiquitous U2000 plan and groan every time admission hurdles are raised or restructuring plans are announced. The liberal crowd is concerned with corporate collusion and it views Coke’s $26 million bribe of higher education as an acceptable reason to start collecting Pepsi points. Most Minnesotans stare blankly at the ceiling when trying to explain the University’s multimillion dollar, Wily E. Coyote-like pursuit of the famed transplant surgeon, Dr. John Najarian. Gopher football fans (now listed as an endangered species after Coach Jim Wacker’s disgraceful 44-10 loss to Michigan last weekend) scratch their heads and wonder who presided over the demise of the University’s sports program. And I’m sure a few conspiracy theorists out there secretly suspect that Morrill Hall was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Yet nothing gets the ire of these critics and chronic complainers more than the actual size of the administration. Morrill Hall, they say, is in high need of Planned Parenthood and population control. Last year the Daily echoed popular discontent by screaming scandal. In a special report we said the growth of administrative overhead caused budgetary migraines and threatened the national stature of this fine institution. As Kelly Taylor of “Beverly Hills 90210” fame would say: “Oh. My. Gawd.”
Unfortunately, however, the growth of the administration is about as overhyped as the New York Yankees’ come-from-behind World Series victory.
First, a few disclaimers. Peter Zetterberg, director of the Office of Planning and Analysis, said the most contentious issue is one of definition: “It depends on what question you’re really asking.” For the purposes of discussion, I define an administrator as someone in the upper echelons of the University system; this taxonomy includes the president, vice presidents, provosts, chancellors, deans and assistants of the foregoing and assistants to the president/vice president. Also note that vacant positions (which arise because of the constant coming and going of upper-level types) were not included in the analysis.
Surprisingly, the number of administrators remained relatively constant over the last decade. In 1983-84, 130 people staffed the positions (or comparable ones) listed above. Eleven years later this number was, drum roll please … again 130. Hardly seems like a calamitous situation, does it?.
In the administrative expense arena, University expenditures rose 38 percent in constant dollars (104 percent in current dollars) over the same period. Administrators, however, aren’t getting rich while working for the University. Speaking to the Senate Committee on Finance and Planning in April 1995, David Berg, former director of the Office of Planning and Analysis, said that financial compensation of the president and senior vice presidents was very low in comparison to peer institutions; for other administrators, salary levels achieved parity. Furthermore, administrative and faculty salaries, Berg said, rose at almost identical rates over the past 20 years.
Over the past decade only two significant changes occurred in administrative staffing levels. In 1985, former President Ken Keller initiated a vice president for institutional relations; currently this position is held by Tom Swain. The office employs several people, but it didn’t lead to hemorrhaging administrative staffing levels. During the second major event, which occurred in 1990, Anne Hopkins was named the vice provost for Arts, Sciences and Engineering, and a new unit was created. However, the Office of Educational Development Programming was simultaneously downsized, and the number of administrators between the two units was roughly comparable.
The University also eliminated positions over the years: administrative data processing director, alumni relations director, Boynton Health Service director, police chief and student support services coordinator.
Although the number of administrators hasn’t increased appreciably, there has been significant title inflation. Let the truth be known: We have more associate and assistant vice presidents today. In defense of Morrill Hall, though, we have significantly fewer assistants and associates to the vice president. Zetterberg said many title changes are accompanied by additional work responsibilities and duties, and few include salary hikes. Consider, for example, the dean of the Graduate School. This position was combined with the vice president for research in 1992. The change didn’t include a pay bump, but the new role frequently requires Dr. Mark Brenner, the current vice president, to travel to Washington, D.C., to speak with representatives from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, etc. In other examples, Sue Markham moved from director to associate vice president of Facilities Management, and Richard Pfutzenreuter made a transition between director and associate vice president of Budget and Finance.
Critics might be correct in pointing to the growth of middle management. However, this is largely out of the University’s control — the real culprit is the onerous growth of federal regulations. The law demands more detailed and costly research reporting requirements, affirmative action mandates, etc. David Berg told the Faculty Consultative Committee that at budget hearings, administrators argue “we have to do this, or we’ll be jailed if don’t do it.” He cited an incident where the University failed to file a required report to the Department of Commerce regarding a purchase from Morocco; the Department of Commerce threatened to arrest then-President Keller. Although staffing in the lower administration may have risen over the years, this is not entirely the University’s fault.
There may be many things in need of correction here at the University, but a bloated administration is not one of them.
Greg Lauer’s column runs every Wednesday in the Daily.