Monday, March 26, 2012

Former Chancellor Levy Says Profs Should Work More

OK, I am steamed. It is bad enough when someone is misrepresenting facts, but when they add hypocrisy on top of it, this is really annoying. This is the case with the latest push for bashing faculty, in this case calling for increased teaching loads without any salary increases, all supposedly to reign in rising tuition costs. I fully agree that rising tuition costs are a serious problem in US colleges and universities, but the problem has much more to do with rising spending on administrators and staff than faculty, and this latest blast from David C. Levy, former Chancellor of "New School University" (back to being the New School of Social Research now) in the Sunday Outlook section of the Washington Post, "Do Professors Work Enough?" is the worst, with its focus on faculty and no mention whatsoever of his fellow administrators and other spongers.

So, he provides no evidence of falling faculty workloads (and none exists because they have not), but wants people teaching four course loads to go to five course loads in teaching oriented schools and to teach during the summers as well, apparently on a mandatory basis, whether or not students want to attend during summers. In short, he wants to turn our colleges into high schools. A sentence that shows how weirdly fixated he is follows: "Since faculty salaries make up the largest single cost in virtually all college and university budgets (39 percent at Montgomery College), think what it would mean if the public got full value for these dollars." Yeah, wow, just think of it. Here I thought he was going to trot out something like 70%, and instead we get 39%. So, what is the other 61% being used for? Obviously administrators, staff, books, and maybe sports (at my uni the highest paid individuals are the basketball coach and football coach, even though the athletic program is not a net money earner, which is true for all but about 20 schools in the US). As it is, one could fire a quarter of the faculty at Montgomery, increase the teaching load of the rest by a third, and manage to reduce tuition by, wait for it, 8%! Wow.

So, let us get at what is the real problem, completely ignored by this former high level university administrator. According to the New York Times of 12/5/11, during the decade 1999/2000-2009/2010, salaries for presidents at the 50 wealthiest universities rose 75%, while professorial salaries rose 14%, .

Nor is this just a matter of the salaries going up for people like Levy way more than for faculty, it is that the numbers of these parasites has also risen dramatically relative to faculty across the board (so that the 39% figure is not all that surprising, although we tend to think that faculty are doing most of the educating at colleges and universities, not the administrators and staff). So, between 1975 and 2005, while total spending on higher ed roughly tripled in constant dollar terms, student-faculty ratios remained about constant at 15-16, administrator-student ratios went from 84 to 68 and staff-student ratios went from 50 to 21. From 1998 to 2008, while faculty spending rose 22%, admin and staff spending rose 36%. From 1965 to 2005, while the number of faculty rose from 446,830 to 675,000, the numbers of administrators and staff rose from 268,952 to 756,405, .

Really, I do not know if this guy Levy, now supposedly president of something called "the education group at Cambridge information group," is as seriously ignorant of these facts as he appears to be, or if he is just supremely hypocritical in ignoring the explosion of spending for his type of person in the higher education firmament. But, the push going on for putting faculty in their place by people like this is simply despicable. I must grant that Levy disavows such advocacy by "the political right [who] have been associated with anti-labor and anti-intellectual values," but this looks pretty empty given that earlier in his piece he singles out the "advent of collective bargaining in higher education" in the early 1970s as a main soure of the supposedly rising salaries of the supposedly wickedly lazy faculty he condemns.

I shall conclude with one more source on the bottom line statistics here, which puts to shame his jibe about collective bargaining. These come from the National Center for Education Statistics as reported by Mark Perry at . So, between 1978 and 2007, while tuitions rose 7.9% per year, faculty salaries rose just barely faster than inflation, 4.5% per year against the CPI at 4.1% per year. Somehow Levy never bothered to notice or cite such numbers in his ridiculous screed. I sincerely hope we do not see too much more of this sort of drivel from this sort of person.


rjs said...

you still need a solution to this:

and this:

ex-student loans, all other consumer borrowing actually fell by more that $10 billion dollars in february...

Zlati Petroff said...

You know I want to agree with you as usual, but I can't quite. More evidence needed.

You say faculty wages rose more slowly than admin wages, but that could just be because universities have in fact become more complicated, more business-like. So the marginal product of the admins running operations has indeed risen faster?

The same applies to the data on how much the # of admins grew. Again- as universities become more complex, as their balance sheets and non-academic operations grow, would we not expect a growing need for more staff?

I have done credit rating analyses for many universities and it is fascinating how complex and business-like they have become. The managers are motivated, they work hard, and they do all the things corporate managers do.

I don't necessarily disagree but I just think we need to develop the argument more.

Barkley Rosser said...

Thanks, rjs.


It is hard to disprove your argument, and it may be at least partly true. Despite my snide remarks about "parasites" and "spongers," I fully agree that quality administrators and staff are needed in at least some numbers, and the real problem of escalating salaries for top administrators really reflects the more general socio-economic problem of escalating salaries for CEOs and top executives, whom I definitely do not think are worth receiving the increases they are receiving.

That said, I do think a lot of the proliferation of staff and admins is unnecessary, basing this on what I hear and what I see at my own uni after 35 years. Some of this is due to mandated functions imposed by outsiders. So, at my uni we have a big bureaucracy now that engages in assessment of our teaching, something mandated by the VA state legislators. These politicians are very proud of this and brag about it on the stump, and maybe it is politically necessary for maintaining some degree of state support, although that is falling anyway. But in my view and that of every colleague I know except for those who have joined this bureaucracy, this is a total waste of time and effort and money, period.

The same goes for the continued expansion of sports and the escalation of salaries there of coaches. The University of Chicago has no sports, and it is a top university. This stuff is just way overemphasized, and it does not make the money people think it does (and a lot of the alum contributions it pulls in just go to more sports).

At my uni we have had an explosion of new colleges. Each of these has a dean, and the number of associate and assistant deans seems to explode, with most of these people getting paid more than faculty. Many of these people "make work" for others by settting up useless committees that faculty must sit on (thereby earning "service points," with this explosion of required service something that Levy does not mention). These semi-deans get to justify themselves while imposing themselves on faculty. Granted, some of the things they do are either necessary or maybe coming from something outside that was not there previously, but a lot of it is just crap, totally wasted time.

This may be proof, and maybe some increase in the admin and staff ratios to students is justified, but I and most faculty I know think that it is way overdone.

Zlati Petroff said...

I definitely agree about the sports, that whole issue just amazes me (and from my own work I can agree that sports operations are often not profit centers or at least not as big as they are made out to be).

Anyway, from your words it sounds like we have cronyism and rent-seeking going on. The admins run the school so they approporiate more and more power to themselves, setting up costly processes and committees that produce big wages but get in the way of the faculty.

So this leads to the question: would this happen in a competitive market? If there was strong competition for faculty, surely it would pay to have a lean staff that doesn't get in the faculty's way as a means to attract the best and the brightest profs.

Is it the case, then, that admins at top unis know very well that their school's prestige has locked them into a strong bargaining position with respect to faculty and they can go about their rent-seeking without worry that other unis might poach their best professors?

How to combat that? What can profs do in response?

It raises some interesting economic questions regarding "prestige feedback loops" which, once in place, allow employers and managers to act imprudently with impunity, not just at unis but in other sectors too.

Christopher Gwyn said...

"all supposedly to reign in rising tuition costs."

reign [reyn]
1. the period during which a sovereign occupies the throne.
2. royal rule or authority; sovereignty.
3. dominating power or influence: the reign of law.
verb (used without object)
4. to possess or exercise sovereign power or authority.
5. to hold the position and name of sovereign without exercising the ruling power.
6. to have control, rule, or influence of any kind.
7. to predominate; be prevalent.

rein [reyn]
1. Often, reins. a leather strap, fastened to each end of the bit of a bridle, by which the rider or driver controls a horse or other animal by pulling so as to exert pressure on the bit.
2. any of certain other straps or thongs forming part of a harness, as a checkrein.
3. any means of curbing, controlling, or directing; check; restraint.
4. reins, the controlling or directing power: the reins of government.
verb (used with object)
5. to check or guide (a horse or other animal) by exerting pressure on a bridle bit by means of the reins.
6. to curb; restrain; control.