Thursday, July 17, 2014

“More Students Without Increasing Faculty”

By Professor Doom

     I readily admit higher education of yesteryear was imperfect, and even had some serious flaws. I still maintain that it’s superior to the higher education of today, ruled by an administrative caste that sucks up ridiculous salaries and benefits, at the expense of faculty and students.

      Now, if the theft were contained at the top, then, perhaps, higher education could still be preserved. Yes, most of tuition would go to the parasites running the place, but still, a degree could mean something, and the United States could keep its claim of having a great system of higher education, devoted to education and research.

     The problem is those administrators are quite bored. They have really nothing better to do than write Vision for Excellence plans, go to meetings, and establish fiefdoms.

     It’s the latter administrative task that’s a threat to higher education. A fiefdom is an administrative kingdom, filled with little administrators. These fiefdoms are where all the administrative bloat comes from. As administrators occupy more and more space on campus (one campus I taught at had over half of the floorspace devoted to administrative fiefdoms—I bet you thought campus was mostly classrooms, eh?), they start to realize those pesky faculty are getting in the way.

     I’m hardly the first to notice that administration really doesn’t understand why faculty are on campus. Ginsberg has a book detailing this fact and warning against the rise of the all-administration campus.

    Some view the endless growth of administration as a conspiracy theory, but I see no such thing. James Levy says it best (albeit not briefly):

Since when is seeking power a "conspiracy theory"? When groups of stock holders, or legislators, or lobbyists, or churchgoers, act in concert to further their ends or feather their nests, is that a "conspiracy'? How about the fact that the more people report to you, the more you can claim you are due as compensation? Or the way that the Dean system leads to salary inflation. The more layers of deans, the more each one want to be differentiated from those below, and the greater the separation between the senior faculty (who make solid salaries) and the various levels of administrators above them. At the university where I taught, the dean made more than any of the profs he administered, then the Provost made more than double what he made, then the President made more than double what he made (at the top of the heap, $900,000 dollars). It doesn't take a conspiracy to see the bureaucratic logic of extending and expanding the number and layers of bureaucrats in order to claim the right to a higher salary. And control of access to those high-paying jobs and the perks that go with them gives the Administration plenty of leverage over the faculty, and divides them into those who want to conform in order to possibly get one of those deanships and those who just want to be profs. This ability to divide and rule really does give the Administration power. And they like it that way--or is that a conspiracy, too?

     Conspiracy or not, in the past, administration still had to maintain a veneer of respect to the faculty. Alas, I fear they have achieved critical mass, and the faux-civility that once was common when administration deigned to talk to and about faculty has fallen by the wayside. 

      Or maybe administration has become so incompetent now that they don’t even realize what they’re saying. I’ve certainly quoted many administrators saying asinine and insulting things. But I humbly ask the gentle reader to consider what new University of Hawaii president David Lassner had to say regarding his new promotion. He likes online coursework, because:

“It is one of the ways we can take on more students without  increasing faculty at a linear pace.”

     It’s just one sentence, and he says it in reference to the many online offerings that his institution has. It reinforces all the things I’ve said about what’s happening in higher education.

     First, the administrator is planning growth. This is always the case, every administrator fetishizes growth. I’ve never seen an administrator give the slightest whisper of a hint of a rumor that he’s interested in improving quality of education. That’s just not on the table, which is a big factor in why so many degrees are basically worthless today.

     Second, and this one deals with today’s discussion: he finds this particular method of growth attractive because, and I’ll abbreviate here, the institution can “take on more students without increasing faculty.”

     Hmm, faculty are already a minority on campus, and most faculty are minimally paid adjuncts. The Poo-Bah here of course wants growth, but, in no way is he willing to risk an increase in faculty to go along with the increase in the student base.

     Of course he doesn’t, if he could, his institution would simply get rid of all the faculty, and simply issue credit hours in exchange for that sweet, sweet, student loan money. It’s no conspiracy, administrators know without those pesky faculty,  their job would be much, much, easier.

     There are now enough courses with enrollments of over 1,000 students (yes, one thousand) that it’s statistically valid to do studies on them. I know, teachers always say they want smaller class sizes (because, you know, that always improves the education of the students), but now that class enrollments have more zeroes in them than administrators can readily count, it’s safe to say classes are way too large.

     I often tutor, and, 1 on 1, I do so much better with students than when they perform in a classroom with 30 or more students. Hiring me this way is very expensive for the student, but some parents are willing and able to have me. The expense is still high, and that’s how schools came to be—it was just more economical for the students involved to pool their resources for the teacher’s time. In the past, the teacher was better off at a school; the education might not be as good, but the teacher would get a better living for his or her family. Nowadays? When I tutor 1 on 1, I make more money (hourly) than what I get for teaching classrooms packed with students.

     There is, obviously, something wrong with education when both student and teacher are better off when the school is not involved. Much of the reason for this is so much of the money just goes to administrators that have nothing to do with education.

     And now, administrators are so confident in their position that they can boast of a “plan” for education that will, and I repeat, take on more students without increasing faculty. Anyone with a clue knows that this will reduce the quality of education. But administration boasts.

     Seriously, the head administrator is bragging about how he’s going to decrease the quality of education at his school. I repeat: bragging about how he’s going to decrease the quality of education.

     Every student hearing this should run as far away as possible from that school, any parent should forbid his child from going to that school, accreditation should discredit that school, and no tax dollars should go to that school in any form (especially student loan or grant money).

     But the administrator is so clueless he thinks he’s saying something great. It’s like the CEO of a car manufacturer boasting “our cars will break down more often” or a new restaurant owner boasting “our food will taste worse.” Only an idiot would say something so stupid.

     But a higher education administrator can say “We’ll make our education even worse” and actually work to make it so, with nobody pointing out the idiocy of it.

     Seriously, something is very, very, wrong in higher education.


  1. It's all about ratings, bragging rights, and how high an institution ranks in a survey results published by some fishwrap.

    The current president at my alma mater will leave office at the end of her current term. She publicly committed herself to putting that university in the top bracket. Of course, what she didn't say is that someone had to pay for it. Guess who might be? She convinced a certain moneybags to fork over some loot but the rest was supposed to come from alumni.

    During the annual beg-a-thon, my alma mater contacted me. The munchkin on the other end of the line claimed that there was a multi-million dollar shortfall and that my donation was *urgently* needed. What that munchkin didn't say was that it wasn't because the government short-changed the university in its annual budget allocation, which it didn't. It was because I, and all the other alumni, had to pay for said president's "vision" (or would vanity be the proper term?), something I didn't find out about until I read about it in a newspaper some time later.

    Did she succeed in raising the university into that magic range? Nope, but that didn't stop her from reminding people to keep trying.

  2. By the way, the system of grad studies would make for some interesting discussions on this site. There are lots of things that go on that don't seem to add up.

    1. I certainly have my share of stories re:grad school and grad students. I might go that route at some point. Even after 130 posts, I yet have a thing or to to say about the undergraduate "college education" most folks know about.

    2. I've got lots of stories to tell myself.

      Grad studies has its own issues, many completely different than what happens at the undergrad level. Yet, the two are related as much of what happens during the process of getting a graduate degree determines the type of faculty that are eventually hired.