B.S. Economics: While Cash-Strapped Universities Cut Teachers, Classes, and Whole Departments, They're Ignoring All Those Managers in the Office of Public Relations

By Wagner, Betsy; Bowermaster, David | The Washington Monthly, November 1992 | Go to article overview

B.S. Economics: While Cash-Strapped Universities Cut Teachers, Classes, and Whole Departments, They're Ignoring All Those Managers in the Office of Public Relations


Wagner, Betsy, Bowermaster, David, The Washington Monthly


Yale and Washington University in St. Louis don't have a whole lot in common-that is, until you look at their ledgers, Last year, both universities laid plans to lop off entire academic departments to help keep the rest of the ship afloat. But their club didn't remain exclusive for long. Columbia, Stanford, and San Diego State University, among others, are also likely to cut academic programs in upcoming years to make up for huge deficits.

The recession has shown up on campuses around the country and settled in alongside the class of '96. Tuitions are up, profs scarcer, and classes larger. The average cost of a four-year private college increased 7 percent this fall to a record $10,498. At public schools, the increase was 10 percent, and during the last decade annual fees at public four-year colleges soared, from an average of $738 to $1,880. Meanwhile, the return on the investment dwindled: Last fall, half of all four-year public universities surveyed by the American Council on Education increased introductory class sizes and reduced the number of courses or sections offered. The result? Fewer students are able to get enough credits to graduate on time, and those forced to stay longer must pay more.

Angry about the trend, students and their families are demanding to know where the money goes. The official answer administrators give is that universities are "labor intensive." They are, of course, but this response also masks one of the dirtiest little secrets on campus today: Despite rising costs and shrinking resources, many more people are making a living off colleges and universities now than 10 years ago. And most of these new people don't deal directly with students at all.

A 1990 Department of Education study shows that between 1975 and 1985, while the nation's total number of four-year students increased by only 7 percent, the number of non-academic "professionals" at colleges and universities --a category that includes such pillars of academe as accountants, lawyers, and systems analysts--increased by an astounding 61 percent. During the same period, the number of full-time faculty members increased by only 6 percent. And as it was for bodies, so it was for dollars. In the eighties, administrative budgets grew 26 percent faster than did those for faculty. Nevertheless, administrators are now busily panng where they should cut last--the classroom--instead of turning the shears on the real area of excessive growth: themselves.

Dollarship

Consider the crowd that has assembled in recent years in the president's office at George Washington University (GW): In addition to the president himself, there's his personal assistant, his special assistant, the special assistant for public affairs, two administrative assistants, an executive aide, and a senior clerk. Then there's the GW Multicultural Student Services Center, featuring a multiculturalism director, an associate director, an outreach coordinator, and two senior secretanes. Equally overpopulated is GW's Office of University Relations. Back in 1982 when it was called the Office of Public Relations, there were just two main positions: director and assistant director. But now, aside from an office manager and a handful of secretaries, the office employs a director of university relations, a director of communications, a public relations specialist, and two public information specialists.

Meanwhile, at nearby Johns Hopkins University, there's the "Wellness Center." Its entire mission is something called "coordination." All the services the center is involved with--such as stress management counseling and date rape workshops--were at one time administered by the offices that actually provide these services. In other words, the Wellness Center is no more than a Department of Meetings. And at Washington's Howard University, despite the fact that administrative staff was cut by nearly 15 percent last year, there is still one administrator for every five students.

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