The logic of free-market economics has become so pervasive in the last few decades that not even public education can escape it.
As much as we decry the state of the modern university, the neoliberal model isn’t going anywhere for the time being. It’s despicable, but understandable, that major colleges, even public institutions, must compete with other schools to promise students a solid education that they can convert into lucrative salaries in their postgraduate careers.
This competitive drive has had some adverse effects. The Los Angeles Times recently published an article detailing the growth of the University of California’s administration since the turn of the millennium while drawing attention to the comparably slow growth rate of its faculty. UC officials claim that hiring more administrators and paying them top dollar is necessary to compete with other institutions of higher education.
All people affiliated with the University, whether they be students, faculty or staff, should be concerned with the increased amount of funds being funneled into top-tier jobs. Arguments have been made about the implications this has for tuition fees and labor, but it is perhaps most harmful to a huge aspect of the University that is difficult to quantify: quality of education.
And that’s what’s most important here. Too often, the quality of education at the University isn’t taken into account when people talk about administration growth, and that’s a problem. All stakeholders of the UC, including students, administrators and taxpayers, need to take a closer look at how this trend in management has adversely affected quality of education, even though it’s difficult to quantify.
Around 2011, the number of administrators employed by the UC eclipsed the number of tenure-track faculty. Since 2000, faculty employment has been relatively stable while the administration has seen a steady climb that shows no sign of slowing down.
During this time frame, tenure-track faculty saw growth of only 8 percent despite a nearly 50,000 student increase in undergraduate enrollment, meaning class sizes are growing – an all-around bad sign for undergraduates, teaching assistants and lecturers alike. Whether the problem is a lack of state funding, as some may argue, or poor management, people on the ground are taking the brunt of the blow.
The UC must determine whether or not all of these administrators are necessary to keep our schools functioning properly. The LA Times cites a survey conducted at UC Berkeley that found that 471 managers at the school were in charge of only a single person each. These findings alone give us reason to believe the problem is widespread and potentially catastrophic.
This paradigm isn’t cheap either. Over 900 UC employees earn annual salaries of at least $400,000 – six times as many that earned comparably high amounts in 2004. Since then, management and senior professionals saw an employment increase of 60 percent, a sure sign of creeping corporatizing. When it comes to employment the UC might be almost too corporate, even for a university in this day and age. One of the ways it determines its salaries is by comparing them to those of Fortune 500 companies.
And UC students are the ones getting hurt by these practices. At UCLA, for example, the general catalog is full of classes that don’t get taught on a regular basis, likely because there are simply not enough professors to teach them. A smaller list of available course options and fewer faculty members are sure signs of disinvestment from education.
But it doesn’t end there. Even current faculty members are being plucked out of the classroom. It isn’t uncommon for professors to get pay raises and promotions to fill newly created administrative positions. This demonstrates a clear shift in priority for the University.
When the UC hires faculty members at a slower rate than administrators for the sake of competition, it tells us that the perception of a decent education and student experience is more important than the actual quality of education.
We have yet to receive a reasonable response as to how a large administration that eats away at the capacity of a university to hire new faculty improves the quality of education. It seems that a high-quality education would be the biggest draw for prospective students, not a large bureaucracy.
There may be legitimate reasons for some administrative growth, such as requirements set by the federal government and the expansion of the medical system. But surely, as we see in UC Berkeley’s case, there is room for more efficient management.
Our university system’s funding problems are complex and go far beyond its disproportionately large managerial class; a look at the current pension crisis is more than enough to make anyone’s head spin. But even in dire financial straits such as these, the University cannot afford to devalue education, no matter what the market demands.