In this past week’s issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, there is a very revealing graph representing the changes in employment in colleges and universities from 1976 to 2011. The graph is based on an analysis of IPEDs data by AAUP’s John Curtis.
Full-Time Tenured and Tenure-Track Faculty
1976 – 353,681
2011 – 436,293
Increase – 23%
Graduate Student Employees
1976 – 160.086
2011 – 358,743
Increase – 123%
1976 – 97,003
2011 – 233,368
Full-Time Non-Tenure Track Faculty
1976 – 80,883
2011 – 290,238
Increase – 259%
1976 – 199,139
2011 – 768,071
Increase – 286%
Full-Time Non-Faculty Professional Staff
1976 – 150,319
2011 – 704,505
Increase – 369%
If we simply could not afford to maintain a level of faculty on tenure tracks proportionate to student enrollment, that would be one thing.
But, clearly, if we can afford such a massive increase in professional staff, as well as such an increase in executives whose salaries have been escalating very dramatically, the sharp decrease in the percentage of all instructional faculty who are tenured or on tenure tracks is a matter of a dramatic shift in priorities—in the conception of the university.
Clearly, our colleges and universities are no longer places where the primary focus is on instruction. Instead, they are places where the primary goal is to entrench and to expand administrative bureaucracies.
It is as if higher education has borrowed very selectively and poorly from the corporate model. Although we now have much the same ever-widening gap in compensation between upper management and the bulk of the employees, we also have the sort of burgeoning middle management that was more typical of American corporations in the third quarter of the 20th century and increasing eliminated from our corporations in the last quarter of the 20th century. If our colleges and universities were truly operating as efficiently as the best corporations, the increase in administrative staff would be among the lowest numbers on this chart and not the highest number.
I do not think that higher education, at its best, is a corporate enterprise, and therefore, I do not believe that it is effective to try to manage our institutions as if they were corporations. Higher education may meet the needs of business in a variety of ways, but it is not a business per se. Indeed, there is manifold evidence that the shift in priorities from instruction to administration is making it increasingly difficult, as well as much less cost-effective, for our institutions to meet the demand for an ever-larger number of college-educated people in the workforce. But our administrative class seems too inept to recognize that the model that they are pursuing and promoting is not just conceptually incoherent but also academically and economically unsustainable.