Friday, August 23

Administrative bloat, budget mismanagement explain UC’s falling global rankings

(Daily Bruin file photo)

(Daily Bruin file photo)

The top public university in the nation.

For the first time, UCLA can claim that title unilaterally.

But the real question is: For how much longer?

For years, the UC school system has boasted household name schools — UC Berkeley and UCLA. At times, these universities’ reputations precede them. Both play on the hype and reputation surrounding them when trying to convince accepted students to commit. Look no further than the giant pep rally that is Bruin Day or the massive celebration of Cal Day each spring. Many of you reading this probably made your decision to attend UCLA in part because of its reputation as a great name-brand school, within the state, nationwide and even internationally. You may have even overlooked warnings and stories you heard about public schools: overcrowded lectures, inaccessible counselors and unavailable required classes.

But the years of hype and name recognition could come to a close if the UC and its individual campuses don’t get serious about addressing the ever-growing challenges students are facing: namely, overcrowded lectures, inaccessible counselors and unavailable required classes.

In fact, some of these challenges caused UC Berkeley to drop several places in university rankings this year. UCLA has also seen a drop in international university rankings on academic and faculty metrics.

For example, UCLA declined in 22 education areas and UC Berkeley dropped in 15 in the 2018 QS World University Rankings, which measure the academic reputations, graduate employability and research performances of universities worldwide. This survey is one of the most reputable and closely watched in the world.

UC administrators will need to grapple with a multitude of emerging crises that students are dealing with – housing costs, overcrowded and unavailable essential classes – to maintain their positions in these prestigious rankings. That requires re-evaluating the UC budget, which has a strong precedent of disproportionate spending on items that don’t improve services for students or quality of education, instead of begging the state for more money to make up for poor budget choices.

Looking at the UC’s growing administrative expenses, it’s pretty clear that sector of the budget could easily be pared down to increase the University’s rankings.

One of the most important metrics when evaluating a university’s rank is the prestige of its faculty, which determines the academic caliber of the school. They’re the ones who publish papers that drive university rankings. Prioritizing spending more on tenured faculty who conduct research and teach students is a crucial element to the preservation of university prestige that the UC has seriously undervalued.

Between 2004 and 2014, the University only expanded the number of tenured or tenure-track faculty by 8 percent. During the same period, administrative faculty grew by a whopping 60 percent.

This reflects the priorities of the already limited UC budget: administrative bloat, not improving the quality of education.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, the number of administrators didn’t surpass the number of tenured faculty until 2011. But recently, in 2015, the UC employed 10,539 administrators but only a mere 8,899 tenured and tenure-track faculty. Even the California State University system, which serves 23 campuses and 484,297 students, only had 3,726 administrators and employed 10,099 tenured or tenure-track faculty. For the record, the UC had around 251,714 students at the same time.

The numbers show the administration is growing much more rapidly than student enrollment. Charles Schwartz, a retired UC Berkeley professor who studied UC finances for over 25 years, found that since 1991, UC management staff has increased by 308 percent, while student enrollment has increased by a mere 62 percent in comparison. Schwartz also found that the largest staff increases have been in what he calls “middle management,” or “supervisory” positions – staff roles that do not directly provide services to students or faculty, but which supervise those who do.

The glaring question is, why does the University all of a sudden need exponentially more supervisors?

When management growth outpaces the growth of the students they’re managing, it’s clear the UC budget doesn’t have its priorities straight – especially since the UC has three times the number of administrators as the CSU while serving half the number of students.

And the UC has come up with some excuses. It claims that a large administrative staff is necessary to keep the large and prestigious University system operating. Sure, that may be true to an extent, but administrators do not help with the rank of the University. In fact, university rankings more stringently evaluate the number of tenured faculty and top of their field professors – not how many random administrators they have.

To address the lack of funding for crucial areas like tenured faculty, the UC has asked the California state Legislature for more funding, or, worse, raised tuition.

And that’s just the issue: The UC constantly complains about budget shortages and not receiving more funding from the state. That takes pressure off the extremely questionable choices the University has made and transfers responsibility to state taxpayers or students.

The UC needs to keep its mission in mind: research, education of students and public service. Expansive administrative growth has no place in that picture.

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Opinion staff columnist

Merz is a staff columnist for the Opinion section.

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  • Stevenkk

    Lets start by firing all the “diversity deans” and hiring real adminstrators

  • paco

    My two cents: This administrative employees growth issue is a nationwide trend, not exclusive to the UC system. I

  • Queenie Settans

    I perceive Emily Merz is very negative about UCLA and UC Berkeley. Is she a UCLA employee? If so, this is a shame. She should have spent more time to learn the trend of institution nationwide on administrative staff before writing this article. Due to bureaucracy and compliance to government agencies on things to do, institutions in the USA unfortunately have more administrative staff than faculty, especially tenured faculty members. Some administrative staff are unprofessional, negative, and unproductive; these characteristics play a negative morale for every organization. That’s why recruiters and executives must never play nepotism, favoritism, and politics, but many of them do.