Aren’t more administrators needed to meet increased federal regulatory requirements?


The title of this post is another one of those entrenched but hackneyed questions that obscures the real issues in higher education. The often-heard claim that federal mandates have necessitated the proliferation of administrators makes little sense on several levels.

First, and most basically, why should keeping data, etc., on what are essentially secondary, if not peripheral, services require full-time, highly paid positions while instruction, ostensibly each institution’s primary reason for existing, should be left to contingent employees? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the opposite to be the case?

Second, the specter of over-regulation and its corollary of unfunded mandates has become one of those broader political talking points that very much needs to be challenged. We have been deregulating for 35 years. Either the Far Right is really lousy at doing it, or they are continuing to misrepresent the extent of the problem because it serves their purposes to do so. I can’t make a case from one illustration, but it is worth noting that the chemical plant in West Virginia that has been responsible for the spill that has polluted a third of that state’s water supply has storage tanks on site that are 80 years old–and I believe that they were last inspected in 1993.

Third, I know of no current business model that includes the sort of expansion of middle management that has become the norm in higher education. One has to go back to the 1950s and 1960s to find something comparable in American corporations.

Lastly, the inequities in compensation do, of course, exist in American corporations, but in most corporations there is forced turnover when upper management changes and/or when profits are deemed less than satisfactory. In contrast, in academia, the bureaucracy remains largely entrenched as one administration succeeds another. The demand for accountability is almost always entirely on the instructional side. When administrators claim that they are “doing more with less,” they usually don’t usually mean that they are working with less than what they actually started with. Instead, they usually mean that they are working with less than what they requested and optimally would have been wanted.

Without being too glib about it, if administrations routinely cleaned out their “dead weight,” the problem of administrative bloat would be much reduced.