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Feb 9, 2004 3:14 am


Administrators, Academic and Otherwise



Well, Robert has raised a number of good questions in the post below about academia. I want to focus on his ending questions:

Perhaps a Tier II liberal arts college is less likely to hire (or retain) deans with monstrous egos than a middle-level state university with top 20 ambitions. Perhaps, too, such a college is more likely to involve faculty in evaluating deans, and less likely to deep-six faculty complaints about their performance. But have the liberal arts colleges avoided adding administration over the past couple of generations? Or has administration at least grown more slowly at such institutions than it did at bigger universities?

I can say a few things about my place relevant to this question. If we're talking about administrators only within the Academic Affairs division, in the 15 years I've been here, we've actually cut one associate dean's position and not created any others. All of those positions qualify as administrators by Robert's definition: 50% or more of their time spent managing people. What we have added is a slew of "director" level positions, just below associate dean. These are faculty who have course reductions of one sort or another to run various programs (our University Writing Program, Academic Advising, etc.). We do have more of these than we used to, but they vary in just how much course release they get. Some may be just at 50%, others spend less than half their time "managing." None are full time. My own view of my campus is that one of our biggest problems is that we have too many majors/minors/programs. We're headed toward a world where every faculty member has his or her own very narrow major! We simply cannot keep up with these from an administrative point of view, and some of them serve so few students as to be just silly (which of course suggests their real purpose - serving faculty desires). Of course, these new majors/minor vary greatly in their, from my perspective, academic weightiness.

However... there is no doubt that the overall presence of administrators on campus is much greater than in the past, when one includes the Student Life division, as well as Finance and Development. We've hired tons of new people in our "University Advancement" office in the last few years. One might argue these are "revenue-producing" expenditures, as private schools like mine depend greatly on alumni and external grant support. On the Student Life side, we have a much bigger (and more professional) staff than we used to. Are they all necessary? Good question. Students want more services (Counseling, Health Center, Career Services, Student Activities, etc), and co-curricular education is the buzzword these days. Competitive pressures are tough to resist. In my associate dean's job, I work a great deal with these folks and they are, for the most part, sincere and professional, and really want to see themselves as educators. Do they bring in benefits in excess of their costs? Hard for me to answer when we just opened a $15 million new student center last month.

So if we're talking about academic administrators, I think we've grown a bit since I've been here, although not a lot and most of it is being driven by curricular initiatives. If we're talking about non-academic administrators, we've grown a ton. Is that bad? Not so clear. I can say this about my place: we are financially better off and have notably better students and faculty than we did when I arrived in 1989. We are on the cutting edge with several pedagogical and curricular innovations (including, he said modestly, the First-Year Program that I administer), and I think we take pretty good students and do very good things with them. We could do more, if we could only get more of them focused on the classroom and not alcohol. Hope that's helpful Robert.


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