When I started college in Chicago in 1970, university and college administrators were professors with solid credentials and strong commitment to teaching and scholarship in the Liberal Arts tradition intended to help the student toward self-discovery, to cultivate her/his creative potential, and to become a productive member of society which included securing a career. University/college bureaucracy was limited, salary differentials between administration and faculty were not that great, there were very few part-time faculty, a “democratic” and in some cases “collective” process through faculty senate was respected, and there was no faculty-administration dichotomy. By the time I left higher education and the US in 2005, the picture had changed completely. The bureaucracy and administration salaries had become bloated, part-time exploded (and of course exploited), administrators were not rooted in scholarship but had evolved into “professional administrator-business managers,” the model of college administration was based on a management-labor dialectic with the faculty senate invariably the enemy of the administration, tuition and taxpayer costs skyrocketing while the quality especially at the undergraduate level declining. Then there were the publicized cases of abuse and corruption and not those that involved college athletics, about which so much has been written. The problem went beyond sports corruption. Those of us who worked in higher education had heard of or knew about abuse and corruption in our own campuses and in others from colleagues, but we could not prove anything or we felt that we could do nothing about it even when we had circumstantial evidence.
Who is at fault?
Complacent and otherwise lazy faculty that teaches a few hours a week, placates students with grade inflation and has not published since the last promotion, resents broad and non-rigged mechanisms of accountability, and seeks to secure an administrative position because she/he is no longer effective in the classroom and too “out-of-it” to conduct research? Perhaps it is the fault of the business community for demanding and securing increasingly inordinate influence in higher education, molding it because of funding that comes from the private sector and of course because it is the place where graduates will be seeking work. Is it the fault of politicians who want a certain type to fulfill an agenda (must have a woman, must have a minority, must have a Liberal, must have a pro-business, must have a going-along type college leader)? Or is it the fault of society that is moving toward a culture of image without substance that is responsible for administrators who reflect the shallowness of our modern materialistic world? The following is but a small sample of cases regarding abuses and corruption. “New Jersey’s Stevens Institute of Technology is the latest in the long line of education corruption scandals. The state attorney general is suing the school and its president, Harold J. Raveche, on accusation of plundering the school’s endowment and receiving nearly $2 million in illegal low-interest loans for vacation homes. Over the course of a decade (1990s), the board of trustees at Stevens increased Dr. Raveche’s salary to $1.1 million–which earned him a higher salary than the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Princeton. Stevens reportedly used multiple sets of books to conceal its rapidly deteriorating financial condition. Click here to find out which other college presidents make more than $1 million per year.”
The average salary for academic staff is five to ten times lower than that of college presidents, and if all the perks are considered it is 15-20 times lower. In 2002 The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the $500,000 annual salary for college presidents or chancellors was no longer an exclusive club, but rather widespread in America. The business of top college administrators is so lucrative that head hunters are paid large fees to find such people, and all at the expense of the taxpayers, donors, and of course tuition-paying students. The question of course in a market economy is one of value a president/chancellor may be offering. Are colleges and universities adding value to the quality of education because of administrators paid salaries historically reserved for CEOs? One of the major criticisms in articles and books about abuse and corruption in higher education concerns the rule by committee for political ends, often to placate the board made up of businesspeople and politicians, and in some cases “stacked” by the university presidents or college chancellors. The lack of solid academic credentials and the use of the position to secure a position with private sector or enter government adds nothing to the institution that pays the price for the luxury of high-paying administration. Again the question is one of value to higher education as a result of college administrators who are more businesspeople running a corporation than academics. Another key issue that goes hand in hand with the skyrocketing salaries of top administrators is the skyrocketing bureaucratization of college administration whose purpose is to create a very strong administration at the cost of quality classroom teaching. The larger the bureaucracy the larger the part-time and contract academic staff. Faculty in their quest to have fewer administrative tasks invariably contributed to the bloated bureaucracy, just as faculty in their quest to be satisfied as long as they received their inflation-adjusted salary raises permitted the abuse and corruption of administration. Controlling the budget and using it within guidelines as well as the manipulation of guidelines–top administrators going on domestic and international destinations for pleasure and justifying it as “college-related” adds considerably to the cost for taxpayers and students. When the economy is growing and the university or college is growing, faculty are receiving their salary raises, their grants, and sabbatical, there is no noise. But when crisis hits and budgets tighten, then the rats come out of their hiding places.
Conservatives always point to faculty as the source of the problem in higher education, and it is true that faculty share in the responsibility for so much ranging from lack of enthusiasm for their profession to abuse of the system by not fulfilling their teaching and research obligations. Higher education is the key to progress and far too important to allow it to the whims of what I recently analyzed as “the culture of image and pseudo-events” prevailing in contemporary society, especially in the US, but more broadly in the West.
While the US has the best graduate schools in the world along with the best talent in academic staff, while there are extraordinary universities and colleges that are beyond abuse and corruption, and while even in universities and colleges that have fallen victims to abuse and corruption at the top there are significant accomplishments by individual researchers and teachers, the question is institutional that concerns primarily the schools not in the top 50 list, where mostly the children of the financial and political elites attend. At a time that conservatives and elements of the business community want to perpetuate education’s “commodification,” the “mass consumer of education” who cannot attend the top 50 colleges and universities, and the general taxpayer need to decide what they want out of higher education, how they want it to serve society’s needs that go beyond careerism that has dominated Western culture since Reagan, and segments of Eastern culture in the last decade?