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Checking up on Administrative Growth

23 Sep Posted by in Business | 1 comment

I was involved in a teapot tempest this past week, but it was my teapot so excuse a comment. While specifics are George Mason stuff, there might be a bit of wider interest.

The Challenge. A colleague and I were presenting about our budget, at a meeting called by the Faculty Senate. Not long before the meeting I learned that a Senator was preparing to show the gathering a comparison between last year’s phone book, under the Provost staff heading, with that of five years ago: the result showed a shocking increase of personnel, from 23 to 73. Fortunately I had a headsup about this document, or (since I do not keep up on comparative telephonery) I would probably have been publicly confused. While one can quibble about aspects of the tactics involved in all of this, it is true that faculty deserve some sense of personnel trends.

The Facts (first cut).  The research involved was rather limited, as things turned out.  Almost all of the increase cited resulted from moving under the Provost column a lot of offices that, in the previous directory, had been separately listed – Institutional Research; Assessment; Administrative VP; Research staff; an Enrollment office; Honors administration are cases in point. Had the research gone beyond the phone book it would also have picked up a large Safety component, previously listed separately but now in my column as well.

I have to confess that I take pride in being responsible about staff expansion, which is why these charges annoyed me more than usually, but a huge part of the explanation rests not on expansion at all, but on reclassification either in the phone book or in the budget listings under Provost. I might also note that between last year we have eliminated several provostial positions, including a Vice Presidency. And we know that, overall, administrative and nonacademic staff expenses have gone up less in the past decade (80%) than instructional expenses (99% increase).

The Facts (remainder). But there has been real growth in my staff as well. The accusing Senator claims that growth should be entirely proportionate to enrollment expansion, but it has probably exceeded that because my office also oversees research (far more expansion); aspects of facilities (far more expansion); number of academic programs (far more expansion); and opportunities for extramural earnings (some expansion, with hopefully more to come).

Real growth in my staff results from several factors:

1.    Decisions I make or share in. I have established a new position of Associate Provost for Graduate Education (this replaced a different previous position, but did require a new classified hire), which reflects huge program growth. I have established a global education position. I have established, at faculty request, a half time distance education position. While honors staff are not new (they used to be in the liberal arts college) the establishment of a separate Honors unit has occasioned expansion. I am prepared to defend all of these decisions, but they did occur.

2.    External world requirements. We’re gearing up for an accreditation visit (one new position) which now requires a new Quality plan (one new position); and state and federal assessment and reporting requirements have gone up, etc.

3.    Alternative funding. Two new positions report to me only on paper, for they’re funded by and responsible to the new Colonial Academic Alliance, the offices of which we house. Several new global positions reflect funding from a mix of grants, international enrollment growth and direct international funding.

4.    Interunit programs. Periodically centers are established that no single unit can handle, and they come into my office at least for a while. Currently three and a half new positions result (real estate and Smithsonian programs).

5.    Research personnel. Here’s the real gorilla, with 85 current staff compared to 25 listed in my office seven years ago. A lot of this is not real growth, but the reclassification of reporting lines or budget sources, but there has been genuine expansion particularly in the environmental health and safety category with our new biocontainment lab coming on line, new federal requirements, etc.

So: I think a reasonable set of conclusions would include: a need for care in researching administrative growth and a recognition that it has not overtaken University educational priorities; but also a realization that a variety of forces, not all of them easily controlled, do occasion expansion as part of larger dynamism. Current budget woes will slow this aspect of growth along with everything else, but we will continue to do a bit of hiring as we do in faculty ranks.  Both in present circumstances and more generally, faculty have a right to some sense of what’s going on, and I hope these comments move this process forward on a responsible footing.