What we talk about when we speak of administration

NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. addresses the Goddard Space FLight Center on July 29, 2009.

NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. addresses the Goddard Space Flight Center on July 29, 2009.

When we say “administration” in higher education, we often mean something far smaller than what administration actually is.  Many people focus on C-suite leaders, like campus presidents and vice presidents.  They fail to take into account the supermajority of administrators, who are… basically every campus staff member who isn’t a faculty member or student.

Here’s a good example, from the Chronicle of Higher Education.  It’s a useful data presentation on salaries (not total compensation) earned by “professional staff members on college campuses”.  The term “administration” covers them all.

For example, staff working in student life/student affairs include:

Deputy head, student counseling
Head, campus recreation/ intramurals
Head, women’s center
Head, campus graduate admissions
Head, campus ministries
Head, minority / multicultural student affairs
Student-counseling psychologist
Deputy head, student financial aid
Deputy head, student admissions
Associate registrar

Quite the variety there, from older fields (registrar, athletics) to supporting students as members of the community (psychologist, minister).  Note that each of these exists because of established demand, not some empire-builder’s whim.

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 Maybe some of these exist because of the campus arms race.

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Under academic affairs we find:

Head, campus educational media services
Head, campus museum
Head, campus teaching center
Librarian, head of branch library
Head, theater/performing-arts center
Executive assistant to system or institution CEO
Librarian, head of collection development
Head, campus educational media services
Librarian, head of technical services
Librarian, head of access services

Plenty of cultural heritage units there, parallel to the classroom (library, museum, theater, performing arts).  These are often historical positions.  How many campuses are willing to cut libraries or museums to reduce administrative overhead?

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Let’s consider “Institutional affairs”:

Staff attorney
Head, campus labor relations
Deputy head, campus AA/EEO office
HR employee-relations-unit supervisor
HR classification-and-compensation-unit supervisor
HR benefits-unit supervisor
Title IX coordinator
HR employment unit supervisor
HR employee-relations specialist, senior
Head, campus disability services

Lots of personnel management – i.e., HR.  That’s something driven in part by the growth in staff (the subject of this post) and also by the boom in adjuncts.  Also under this header are some recent (circa 1970s) regulatory compliant functions: Affirmative Action, Equal Employment Opportunity, Title IX.  Which of these can be abolished?  Should a campus be without a lawyer, the highest paid position on that list?

There are many more on that page.  Check out clerical/maintenance,  facilities, or IT.

My point is that while there is obviously room for administrative abuse, the supermajority of these are legitimate functions.

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 If we want to reduce them, we need to examine the reasons why they exist, other than overhyped, so-called administrative “bloat”.

(photo by NASA’s Goddard Space Center)

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9 Responses to What we talk about when we speak of administration

  1. Ron Griggs says:

    One distinction between faculty and administrators is that–at most institutions–faculty workload is fairly well cut and dried. If we need six more classes in Biology, we don’t ask the faculty in Biology to just figure it out; we hire another faculty member. On the administration side, it is mostly a matter of opinion about whether a new administrator is needed. The number of students visiting the counseling center continues to increase–at what point do we hire a new counselor? We have more technology-equipped classrooms and have doubled the number of events that need AV support–at what point do we hire a new AV specialist?

    Reasonable people can disagree over the right answers to these questions. The growth of the administration can be critiqued from many angles: who agreed to equip more classrooms without planning for support? why can’t you use more student labor? aren’t there technology tools that will enable one person to manage a larger portfolio? why aren’t you just saying “no” to AV support requests for events (except for the ones in my department, of course?) The equations are simpler on the curricular side.

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  3. VanessaVaile says:

    Reblogged this on As the Adjunctiverse Turns and commented:
    something to bear in mind when reading (or writing) next #badmin rant

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  8. The workload of most academic institutions’ faculty members is rather predictable, which is one way in which they differ from administrators.

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