The University as a Money Funnel


One serious problem with American higher education is that the cost of a four-year degree is higher than ever—even when adjusting for inflation. The causes of this increase are well known and well understood—there is no mystery about this. One contributing factor is that universities tend to spend considerable money on facilities that are not connected to education. Critics like to, for example, point out that some universities spend millions on luxurious fitness facilities. These sort of expenditures are ironic (and stupid) given that education funding has been consistently reduced across the United States. To use the obvious analogy, this would be like a family putting in a pool, spa, and exercise room when they do not have enough money to pay for their actual necessities.

What seems to be the major factor contributing to costs is the ever-expanding administrative class at universities. This expansion occurs in terms of both individual salaries and overall numbers. From 2000 to 2010 the median salary for the top public university administrators increased by 39%. The top administrators, the university presidents, enjoyed a 75% increase. In stark contrast, the salaries for full-time professors increased by almost 19%.

The money for these salary increases has to come from somewhere and an obvious source is students. My alma mater Ohio State University is leading the way in milking students to pay administrators. Between 2010 and 2012 Gordon Gee, the president of OSU, was paid almost $6 million. At the same time, OSU raised tuition and fees to a degree that resulted in student debt increasing 23% more than the national average.

While some might be tempted to attribute this salary bloating as the result of the usual alleged wastefulness and growth of the public sector, private colleges and universities topped their public counterparts. From 2000 to 2010 private schools saw salary increases of about 97% for their top administrators and their presidents enjoyed a 171% increase. Full time professors also partook of the increases—their salaries increased by 50%.

What is even more striking than the salary increases are the increase in the number of positions and their nature. From 1978 to 2014 administrative positions skyrocketed 369%. This time period also marked a major shift in the nature of faculty. The number of part-time faculty (the analogues of temp workers in the corporate world) increased by 286%. The use of adjuncts is justified on the grounds that doing so saves money. While adjunct salaries vary, the typical adjunct makes $20,000-25,000.

However, the money saved does not translate to a lower cost of education—rather, it “saves” money from going to faculty so that it can go to administrators. Since the average salary of a university president is $478,896 and the number of presidents making $1 million or more a year is increasing, it should be obvious what is helping to drive up the cost of college. Hint: it is not adjunct pay.

There was also a push to reduce (and eliminate) tenured positions which resulted in an increase in full time, non-tenure earning positions by 259%. Full time tenure and tenure-track positions increased by only 23%. Ohio State University provides an excellent (or awful) example of this A&A Strategy: the majority of those hired by OSU were Adjuncts and Administrators. To be specific, OSU hired 498 adjunct instructors and 670 administrators. 45 full-time, permanent faculty were hired.

Interestingly enough, the Republicans who run many state legislatures rail against wasteful spending, impose micromanagement and inflict draconian measures on state universities yet never seem to address the real causes of tuition increase and the problems in the education system. Someone more cynical than I might note that the university seems to no longer have education as its primary function. Rather, it is crafted to funnel money from the “customer” and the tax payer (in the form of federal student aid) to the top while minimizing pay for those who do the actual work.

Tenure has been a target in recent years because tenure provides faculty with protection against being fired without cause (tenured faculty can be fired—it is not a magic shield). This is regarded by some as a problem for a variety of reasons. One is that tenured faculty cannot be let go simply to replace them with vastly lower paid adjuncts. This, obviously enough, means less money flowing from students and the state to administrators. Another is that the protection provided by tenure allows a faculty member to be critical of what is happening to the university system of the United States without running a high risk of simply being let go as a trouble maker. As you might guess, I am a tenured full-professor. So, I can use my freedom of speech with rather less fear of being fired. I also enjoy the dubious protection afforded by the fact that people rarely take philosophers seriously.

 

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13 Comments.

  1. s. wallerstein

    Wouldn’t a Marxist say that in capitalist society the tendency for everything is to become a commodity and that the basic relation between people becomes a cash nexus?

    Universities, for a variety of reasons, were slower than most social structures to integrate themselves into the general process of commodification, but I guess they’re catching up with the times.

    If the above analysis is true, there’s not much hope to revert the tendency you describe, although I suppose that there is always space for alternative teaching instances, for example, putting one’s classes or one’s thoughts online.

  2. “As you might guess, I am a tenured full-professor. So, I can use my freedom of speech with rather less fear of being fired. I also enjoy the dubious protection afforded by the fact that people rarely take philosophers seriously.”

    You needn’t worry. Administrators do not read either. As well as being deeply burdensome, they are an incurious and ignorant species. And they feel invincible. They’re literally begging for a revolution. Asking for it.

    When people behave like Louis the 16th and his wife, they’re not long for the tumbrel and the blade.

  3. s.wallerstein,

    Good point. A Marxist would no doubt point out that the university has finally moved out of the Middle Ages and fully into capitalism.

  4. JMRC,

    Having French ancestry, I do have a special place in my bad soul for the Guillotine.

  5. “Having French ancestry, I do have a special place in my bad soul for the Guillotine.”

    What surprises me, is there hasn’t been a Paris 68 style uprising by American students against their own colleges. There are many parallels, except the American situation is worse. Though European administrators have been using American universities as a benchmark to bloat their pay and numbers.

    There are other very interesting things happening too. The University of Phoenix, behemoth of private colleges have lost half their students, the company has also taken a pasting on the stock market, and everyone is screaming scam. It may not be long before all that’s left of the institution is its’ football team……That would actually be a very American thing; to have a university football team attached to a university that doesn’t have any students, just a football team.

  6. Mike LaBossiere,

    “A Marxist would no doubt point out that the university has finally moved out of the Middle Ages and fully into capitalism”

    A Marxist tends to be a man with a hammer, who sees every problem as a either class struggle or a capitalist commodification.

    I prefer the French word for commodity; marchandise, it’s a cognate for the English merchandising or even marketing. It makes Marx’s meaning much clearer. And it has the unexpected result of displaying how closely the free market evangelicals are aligned with Marx. Where they diverge, is Marx’s theory that the capitalist merchandising of everything, will be dehumanising, lead to the general impoverishment of society, and bring about the destruction of the market itself. The market evangelicals see the same process of commodification/merchandising, as society’s salvation, and that the process is infallible.

  7. s. wallerstein

    JMRC,

    I don’t see many similarities between the French students in 1968 and university students in the USA today.

    First of all, French universities were free of charge in 1968, so the issue was not high fees. In fact, one could say that the French students were protesting against the fact that their universities were too Medieval, to use Mike’s adjective.

    Unfortunately, in the U.S. at least modernization has come to higher education, not in the form that the French students of 1968 imagined (it’s forbidden to forbid; be realistic, demand the impossible, etc.), but in the neoliberal form that the Economist magazine celebrates.

    Another big factor in 1968, not only in France, was outrage against the U.S. genocidal war in Viet Nam. Why drones and Guantánamo fail to produce similar outrage is a question that I feel incapable of answering.

    But the main difference, as far as I can see, is that in 1968 we (I was a student then) were sure of finding a middle class job upon leaving the university and so had no problems getting arrested in a street demonstration, etc., while students today face a bleak economic future and fear any “black” mark on their employment curriculum.

  8. s. wallerstein,

    “I don’t see many similarities between the French students in 1968 and university students in the USA today.”

    I’ve had the wonderful good fortune recently, of picking up an art book; La Beauté est dan la rue: A visual record of the May ’68 Paris uprising. The shop had put the wrong bar code on it. They realised this, but it was too much hassle to remove it. A bargain is an understatement.

    There are striking similarities.

    “First of all, French universities were free of charge in 1968, so the issue was not high fees. In fact, one could say that the French students were protesting against the fact that their universities were too Medieval, to use Mike’s adjective.”

    Universities were free, but no it wasn’t a case they were medieval. The Gaullist government had been pushing radical cost cutting “reforms”. They were cutting teacher numbers and increasing the student teacher ratios. And the students were reacting to the educrats (the administrative bureaucrats of the universities).

    “Unfortunately, in the U.S. at least modernization has come to higher education, not in the form that the French students of 1968 imagined (it’s forbidden to forbid; be realistic, demand the impossible, etc.), but in the neoliberal form that the Economist magazine celebrates.”

    I’m sorry, I’d have a lot more to say about all this but I’m just very tired at the minute.

    But, I’ll say this. In Situationism there’s a term; recuperation. Capitalism has a wonderfully way of using protest and slogans against it, once it has recovered from the initial attack, to further its’ own interests. “Be realistic, demand the impossible”, these days could be the copy line for a shampoo advert or even Burger King. (You’re more likely to find situationism taught to evil little bastards on a business/marketing course than in political science)

    We live in interesting times.

    Getting deep into student debt, and finding yourself working in Burger King, instead of the bling bling, or even marginally above poverty life style, as the Economist articles guaranteed, would be enough to turn anyone into a Maoist guerrilla.

  9. s. wallerstein

    JMRC,

    I congratulate you on your lucky find in the book store.

    What you say about capitalism “recuperating” revolutionary slogans is all too true. “It’s forbidden to forbid” could be the slogan of some chocolate treat marketed to seduce people otherwise concerned about gaining weight.

    Have you seen this? If it’s appeared here previously, my apologies.
    http://www.thechestore.com/

    For some reason, getting heavily into student debt and ending up in a low-paying job does not seem to turn many people into Maoist guerrilleros. Those Maoist or Guevarista revolutionaries who appeared in the 60’s or 70’s in France, Germany, Italy, the U.S. (the Weatherpeople),
    or in Latin America, generally came from the relatively comfortable middle class or at least their leaders did.

  10. JMRC,

    The University of Phoenix doesn’t have a football team. It does have a football stadium, but no football team.

  11. Jim P Houston

    The University of Phoenix doesn’t even have a football stadium as such – the stadium is owned and run by the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority. What the University has done is agreed to spend some $7.7 million a year for 20 years worth of ‘naming rights’ i.e. publicity.

  12. s. wallerstein,

    “What you say about capitalism “recuperating” revolutionary slogans is all too true. “It’s forbidden to forbid” could be the slogan of some chocolate treat marketed to seduce people otherwise concerned about gaining weight.”

    The recuperation of Che Guevara is one of the most egregious and patently absurd examples. But possibly the most ironic and egregious is the recuperation of situationism itself for the purposes of capitalism. a kind of depoliticised version is taught in business schools. I’ve seen definitions of it in texts books as simply an art movement. And so now the shelves of supermarkets carry more situationist slogans than the walls of Paris 68.

    Situationism is more concerned with power’s use of images; and capitalism just being a case of power. And it’s not something that’s easy to explain. If you tried with a plumber or a university professor, you’d probably get a blank stare, or a quivering look of terror as if they’re about to be attacked by a madman. But for instance, the building of the pyramids could have had no other purpose than to be an impressive spectacle, to make the Egyptian elites appear more powerful in the eyes of the Egyptian people. There’s a strong argument that the ‘shock and awe’ of the invasion of Iraq was for no other purpose but to make the American elites appear more powerful in the eyes of the American people.

    And a situationist could make the similar argument as a Marxist might, That instead of the spectacle being used for the purposes of power, the Spectacle itself can use the powerful as unwitting agents of the Spectacle, as a Marxist might say for Capital’s influence over people.

    There’s another term or tactic in situationism, that is similar to recuperation, and that is détournement; literally twisting or turning. Ronald McDonald was once a powerful image used by the McDonalds corporation. They have now abandoned the clown, due to attacks by situationists, who’ve twisted him into a frightening ogre.

    http://skaty9.com/wp-content/plugins/rss-poster/cache/be429_131016180627-banksy-1016-horizontal-gallery.jpg

    “For some reason, getting heavily into student debt and ending up in a low-paying job does not seem to turn many people into Maoist guerrilleros. Those Maoist or Guevarista revolutionaries who appeared in the 60’s or 70’s in France, Germany, Italy, the U.S. (the Weatherpeople),
    or in Latin America, generally came from the relatively comfortable middle class or at least their leaders did.”

    The thing about Paris 68 is that it was very spontaneous. It wasn’t led by the soi dissant leadership of either the left or the youth. It’s still largely a mystery. You can’t predict the spontaneous.

    Did Paris 68 have any lasting positive effect. According to a few people I’ve spoken to who were there at the time it did. By scaring the be jesus out of the authorities and administrations, much further afield than France.

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