Vital Signs

Top—Heavy Schools

It was another day, you know—back when President James A. Garfield could define a university as “Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.”  Which was to say, a great teacher—Hopkins being the renowned president of Williams College—needed only the opportunity to sit down, unencumbered, and teach.  You know, without special assistants, everyday assistants, assistants to assistants, vice presidents for this-that-and-the-other, directors, panjandrums, proconsuls, and so on to oversee and remunerate.

But, of course, it was a long time ago, as Prof. Jay P. Greene reminds us, inferentially, in his recent thumping of the modern collegiate infrastructure, “Administrative Bloat at American Universities: The Real Reason for High Costs in Higher Education,” a report undertaken on behalf of the Goldwater Institute.

Whatever does the gentleman mean by “bloat”?  He means the increase, at 198 major public and private universities, in administrative personnel, between 1993 and 2007—39 percent per 100 students, versus an increase of merely 18 percent in teaching, research, and service personnel.  The Greene study emphatically does not point to a huge increase in Mark Hopkins types; instead, to an eruption in the number of functionaries who don’t perform the central task of a university—that of teaching—but do support work of...

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