University administration: a growth industry

It comes as no surprise that university administration has expanded so dramatically over the past two decades, to the point where “20 cents is now spent on central administration for every dollar spent on instruction and non-sponsored research; back in 1987-88, 12 cents went to administration.” (I recall similar things being said about the growth of university administration during faculty contract negotiations at the University of Winnipeg in the early 1990s.) Perplexingly, administration seems to be the only thing growing at universities, apart from externally funded research: as a percentage of total funds spent, teaching, unfunded research, libraries and suchlike are down, though it’s possible that spending is up in real terms.

Well, one other thing has grown at universities: tuition fees. Twenty years ago, tuition cost about a third what it does now — about $1,500. (By the time I hit grad school, that number had doubled, mind you.) Now you know what your tuition pays for.

The bureaucracy is expanding to support the needs of the expanding bureaucracy — so what else is new? I’ve been dismayed to see central administrations expand at just about every institution I’ve seen, and they all have one thing common: a complete disconnect from what the institution is supposed to be doing. A lot of reports and consultations, a lot of self-interested careerism, and if there’s an impact on operations, it’s rarely to the good.

It is, in other words, a cancer.