Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Admnistrative corruption, part 3


Administrative Corruption, Part 3

By Professor Doom

 

“…a major east coast university maintained an office in a centrally located European capital. The nominal purpose of this office, directed by a senior vice provost, was to build connections….The vice provost spent his time traveling around Europe and holding dinner meetings with…scholars, administrators, and minor government officials….after several years, the vice provost retired and his European office was closed…the vice provost drew a hefty salary. He employed an assistant and other staffers…he required an adequate travel, dining and entertainment budget…

 

---and he accomplished nothing at all, and never intended to do so, eventually retiring from the position and from higher education. From Benjamin Ginsberg, The Fall of the Faculty, p70. Considering the pay of all the staff, we’re talking $500,000 a year or more being spent like this.

 

     I can’t emphasize strongly enough how the complete lack of checks and balances on administration has led to extreme waste in higher education. It’s hard to estimate how much money was thrown away by the vice provost’s sweetheart job, as a precursor to his retirement…most people retire then travel, he just did it the other way around. Ten million dollars were spent on this fiefdom, maybe? And nobody in administration thought anything of it, being far too busy securing their own fiefdoms.

     Administration is unstoppable and fast in its growth. One young institution I was at began with just a handful of administrators. Every year, another classroom or two was taken over for administration purposes; soon, there was no office space left for faculty, which were then housed in classrooms. After a decade, less than half the floorspace of the campus was available for classes, supposedly the primary mission of the institution (as opposed to providing administrative office space).

     About the only check on administrative greed is the trustees, but far too often, the trustees are “in on it,” to the point that it’s not in their interest to do something about it.

      Naturally, accreditation is supposed to cover this sort of thing, but it’s a joke. Auburn was placed on probation by SACS (their accreditor) due to serious violations of trustees doing big business with the institution—I’m hardly the only faculty member to notice how often the logos of companies owned by trustees can be found on vehicles doing work at the institution. As always, such probations are really just gentle pokes…even with millions of dollars of insider/corrupted money changing hands, Auburn gets years to change their activities so they can be performed in a way even a blind incompetent regulator like SACS can’t see  legitimately.

 

     Faculty who wonder why their school’s board continues, year after year, to support an utterly incompetent president, or why the board has opted to summarily fire a competent one, might do well to follow the money.

 

--Benjamin Ginsberg

 

     While for now I’m avoiding discussion of activities at the top since that is just too easy, I feel Daniel Goldin at Boston University merits a special mention, because he didn’t actually make it to the top. The main purpose of the board of trustees is to pick that top guy, and they chose Goldin. Goldin made the mistake of announcing his intention to examine the institution’s business relationship with the trustees, and to remove those that were engaging in improper activities. The mistake, of course, being that he announced that before he’d entrenched his position. The trustees rescinded the offer, but paid him $1.8 million to keep his mouth shut as a consolation prize. Much as administrative control of faculty hiring has led to spinelessness and subservience to administration as common faculty traits, trustee control of the presidency leads to corruption in administration.

     Institutions in higher education complain often of budget issues, but when you read story after story like this of millions sloshing around, it’s tough to believe there’s a real shortage of money. Meanwhile, faculty struggle to get light bulbs for their classrooms, or pay for their own toner for the printer, or scramble to find paper so they can give tests…because there’s no money, you see.

     It isn’t just about the money, administrators also have the power to award degrees, above and beyond the “honorary” Ph.d.s that can be sold like party favors. In addition to “misappropriating” over $2,000,000 to fund a lavish lifestyle that people complained about for years, an Education dean at the University of Louisville awarded a Ph.D. (in Education, and I’ll gratuitously add “of course”) to a student that had attended few classes, in exchange for $375,000. I’d also discuss the Master’s degree handed out by a university president to the daughter of a governor, but that’s for later. I suppose in comparison the administrator who gave himself and his son some minor degrees hardly merits mention, even with the dozens of other infractions he committed.

 

Me: “Do you have any idea who that graduate is?”

Other faculty member: “None at all.”

--at a small school I taught at, every graduation would have students I KNOW I failed, nevertheless getting their diplomas. There would also be a handful of students with specializations in mathematics, and some of them I had never seen before…it was such a small school that there was only one other person who could possibly have had the students. He never knew who they were, either. We would stand at gradation with looks of complete mystification on our faces, as though we were at another school’s graduation ceremony. I emphasize: the school only had a few hundred students, on a campus with a score of rooms…there wasn’t a way to miss a person over the course of years.

 

    I emphasize again: the above stories are just the corruption that is known about. Considering that it’s primarily egregious behavior over the course of years that leads to anyone getting caught, it’s fair to consider the possibility these stories are but the tip of the iceberg.

     It’s easy enough to come up with stories of “friends” of administrators getting an unjustified admission to an institution. I’ve seen a few myself, but honestly, if the department head wants to enroll his nephew into a mathematics Ph.D. program, as long as he can do the work, I’m fine with it (he couldn’t, but I don’t begrudge him the opportunity).

     On the other hand, knowing that degrees can simply be handed out by administrators is pretty scary, from a faculty point of view. Already, the content of my courses is heavily influenced by administrative pressure, as is my grading. Even the courses offered are determined by administration…now that administration can award degrees too, how long is it until faculty are no longer needed at institutions of higher learning? As I’ll address later, faculty are now a minority on campus, and the proportion of administrators rises every year…my question isn’t that rhetorical at all.

     Should administration, which such a track record of corruption, even remotely have the power to hand out degrees? Should there be any limit to the power of administration in higher education? I’m struggling to find a question relating to this level of corruption that would require to the reader to think even a little about an answer.