By Richard Vedder
Doug Lederman sent my blood pressure into the stratosphere this morning. I am not mad at Doug --who is arguably the best reporter covering higher education in America today. He is just the messenger. What was today's message? American universities added over 79,000 new employees last year, despite rising unemployment, the recession and, at the beginning of the academic year, a huge financial crisis. Worse, less than 12,000 of the jobs were for "instruction, research, and public service" ---and there are as many new executive/managerial/administrative additions as in the core areas mentioned above. Literally, a new administrator was hired for every new instructor.
That's not all. For every new instructor/research/public service employee addition, there were three new "other professional" persons added. Only 15 percent of incremental employment had anything to do with instruction. My university, for example, added people in the area of "sustainability" and "wellness", not to mention public relations, while more and more students cannot get into classes, in part because of poor resource allocation, and in part because the faculty don't want to teach them and continue to lower their teaching load.
This angers me but does not infuriate me. After all, it is the continuation of a trend that has gone one for decades. What infuriates me, beside the contempt shown for the customer (the student), is the hypocrisy and lying done by university presidents. They tell their legislatures and big donors that they are really being pushed against the wall financially, that they are doing all sorts of things to get greater efficiency, etc. Mostly out and out lies --or at least gross distortions. They say one thing and do another.
I got to thinking --who is morally more suspect: prostitutes, drug dealers, or university presidents? The two former occupations involve illegal activities, which gives a moral edge to the university presidents. Yet when the prostitute sells her (or his) wares, she or he usually delivers honest and reliable service for the funds provided --you get what you pay for. Can you say the same thing about universities? And the drug dealer who tells you he is giving you X but in fact delivers Y is held accountable --often ending up dead or maimed. What happens to the University president who tells the legislature that 'we are in tough times, things are tight" --and then turns around and hires more sustainability coordinators and multicultural specialists, meanwhile closing kids out of classes willfully so he or she can get another year's tuition (and possibly state subsidy) out of them? Who are bigger liars, cheats and scoundrels --drug dealers or university presidents?
The mayor of Pittsburgh has it right. It is time to move from subsidizing to taxing this type of behavior. The only question is: should we criminalize it like we do with drugs and prostitution?
Now, having said all of this, I want to say categorically that there are lots of good university presidents. Some are my good friends. They do have a tough job, not even knowing who their bosses are in some cases. They play a game by morally dubious and administratively ambiguous rules. Many of them -- maybe even most of them -- are kind, generous, humanitarian, thoughtful and, fundamentally, rather honest (however, I am sure the same thing can be said of some prostitutes and drug dealers). But the system encourages this shameful behavior. Higher ed is in need of an extreme makeover, and sooner rather than later.