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ASU Statement Misses the Mark

By Jay Greene, Brian Kisida and Jonathan Mills

Nothing in Arizona State University's statement about this study challenges the accuracy of the information we presented regarding administrative bloat at American universities, including ASU. Instead, the statement quibbles over definitions and attempts to justify the bloat that has occurred. Nothing in the statement changes the fact that ASU nearly doubled the number of full-time senior executives and professional staff (which combined we call "administration") per student between 1993 and 2007, while the number of instructors and researchers per student actually declined.

ASU's main objection is that we define "administration" inappropriately by including professional staff, which includes some job titles that the university says are not involved in management of the organization. This is simply a semantics argument. Whatever we call these relatively high-skilled and high-paid people, they are not faculty engaged in the university's primary mission of teaching, research and service. Whatever we call them would not change the fact that the ranks of these relatively well-paid non-educators nearly doubled at ASU while faculty shrank.

The vast majority of job titles included in the "other professionals" staff category for the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System are clearly administrative. They include "business operations specialists; buyers and purchasing agents; human resources, training, and labor relations specialists; management analysts; meeting and convention planners; miscellaneous business operations specialists; financial specialists; accountants and auditors; budget analysts; financial analysts and advisors; financial examiners, [etc]…"

ASU is attempting to deny that these people are administrators when they clearly are by any reasonable definition.

ASU also attempts to justify the growth in administration (or "relatively well-paid non-educators," if they prefer) by suggesting that they are needed because of "the advent of the worldwide web and the widespread use of personal computers in higher education." This is a strange argument because, in almost every other industry, better technology has reduced the need for more employees.

ASU acknowledges that technology allowed the university to reduce the number of clerical positions, which we note in our report. But university officials claim that eliminating secretaries justifies adding professional staff at a faster rate. Cutting relatively low-paid secretaries to add even more relatively well-paid administrators is exactly the type of administrative bloat we are highlighting. Advanced technology and larger enrollments should lead to more efficiency in both low-paid and high-paid positions.

It is also important to note ours is not the first or only analysis to point to administrative bloat in higher education. Reports by the Delta Project, the American Association of University Professors, and Bain & Company, as well as books by Richard Vedder, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, and Craig Brandon – among many other sources – all draw the same conclusions as we do about the problem. Unless we are all picking the wrong years to examine, using the wrong data sets, employing the wrong definitions, and conducting inappropriate analyses, it is likely that there really is a problem with administrative bloat.

Rather than denying this reality, ASU should learn from the example of Erskine Bowles, the former chief of staff for President Clinton and current president of the University of North Carolina. After the respected management consulting firm, Bain & Company, documented administrative bloat at UNC, President Bowles told school officials: "administrative growth within the university is an absolute embarrassment – and we brought it all on ourselves." He continued, "In the conversations that we will be having with you regarding your 10 percent budget reduction plans, we will be looking for absolute proof that you have focused first on administrative reductions and solid evidence that you have taken steps to shore up our academic core."

The response by ASU President Michael Crow could not have been more different. Rather than admitting the existence of an obvious problem and pledging to address it, Crow forcefully denied its existence and attempted to intimidate his critics. Scholars express their disagreements directly and openly, even if forcefully, and do not attempt to silence their opponents by going to their "bosses."

This study has documented what most people familiar with universities such as ASU have understood for some time. As university campuses got bigger, they added far more supervisors and support employees than full-time instructors and researchers who actually prepare students for their college diplomas. Unfortunately for Arizona students and taxpayers, ASU has ranked among the worst universities in the country in this trend.

Jay Greene, Brian Kisida and Jonathan Mills are co-authors of the Goldwater Institute policy report “Administrative Bloat at American Universities: The Real Reason for the High Costs in Higher Education.”