Sunday, March 23, 2008

Is Mark Yudof Crazy

By Richard Vedder

If Gordon Gee (available for rent at Hertz Rent a Prez) is the most flamboyant major university adminstrator in American higher education, Mark Yudof is perhaps the most solid. He has run both the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas system with distinction over a long career. Now he is going to become Chancellor of the University of California, probably the most prestigious public university in the United States as well as the largest. He reportedly will make at least the $750,000 annually he made at Texas and three-quarters of what Mr. Gee gets at Ohio State.

Why would Yudof give up a nice job at UT (where he taught and worked as an administrator for three decades)to take on the UC system. UC has a Board of Regents that gets involved all the time in campus affairs. That is annoying, to put it mildly, for a university prez. The system had a big salary scandal a couple of years ago. It is in continuous battles over affirmative action. And it is California, not the sanest of American states politically.

But what is worse, the system is top heavy with administrators. They reportedly have 2,000 employees in the central office. This resembles a Soviet style central planning operation. Why not lop off 1,900 of those employees and let each campus operate mostly autonomously, with some policies and budget allocations set centrally? Aside from saving at least $100 million annually, this would allow for a more innovative and entrepreneurial system. The ancient regime that is leaving is ordering a 20 percent cut in that administrative blog, but it strikes me as insufficient.

All of this shows there are few economies of scale in higher education --bigger is not necessarily better, and certainly not cheaper. Campuses of 50,000 students (UT and Ohio State being the best examples) are often rather inhumane places with massive campus congestion and a sense of community that depends more on the football team than a shared sense of academic purpose. String a bunch of these campuses together and you have more of a mess, a managerial challenge of the first order. Should the University of California move to something akin to the Articles of Confederation in our earlier national history -- a looser confederation of largely independent universities? I suspect so. Mark Yudof certainly has a challenge.

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