[lbo-talk] Amid tougher times, spending on payroll soars at Michigan universities

Alan Rudy alan.rudy at gmail.com
Fri Apr 1 05:39:55 PDT 2011

On Thu, Mar 31, 2011 at 7:58 PM, c b <cb31450 at gmail.com> wrote:

> Must be that "they" are part of the creative Randian elite.
> CB
> http://www.freep.com/article/20110327/NEWS06/103270503/1318/FreepHigh11/Amid-tougher-times-spending-payroll-soars-Michigan-universities?odyssey=nav|head
> Amid tougher times, spending on payroll soars at Michigan universities.
> Michigan universities increased their spending on administrative
> positions by nearly 30% on average in the last five years, even as
> university leaders say they've slashed expenses to keep college
> affordable for families.

Wow, CB, now you are sending us articles from the Freep (of all places) driven by Republican talking points (of all things) and citing the Mackinaw Center's (amazing...) critique of education costs/inefficiencies? I'd have thought you'd place the Mackinaw Center among the fascists...

I am happy to accept that there are too many, moderately highly paid, administrators at public universities. The question any good leftist asks is why.

First, there certainly is some irrational bureaucratic expansion, etc.

Far more important, however, is that the state, and federal, state and foundation research sources and accrediting agencies are demanding ever more audits, accounting, oversight and self-justification in the name of fiscal efficiency... just like with No Child Left Behind (in order to figure out what departments, programs, people, should be cut, everyone is forced to waste weeks and weeks collecting data in categories that make no sense so that higher ups in any number of locations have incommensurable data to compare as a means of making invidious comparisons and legitimating discipline and cost-reductions.) And you want us to see this as some kind of administrative self-aggrandizement?

At the same time, the legislature has actively encouraged all kinds of development along the lines of distance learning and university-industry and university-community programs... these have to be managed. Additionally, ever more professional programs are rewarded with nods of approval... these, too, have to be managed and unless you're going to accept that traditional humanities, social science and natural science programs - those ones where first and second year students actually learn something - need to be cut given your acceptance of the zero-sum nature of education funding, you need a seriously different critique than this appeal to Randian elites. Now, if you want to advocate that the governor, Republicans and Mackinaw Center want to increase university administrative efficiency by reducing the insane amount of discipline-by-irrational-audit and by reprioritizing public education in more educational directions then you'd be able to find millions of dollars that could be chopped from university administrative costs... otherwise you're doing the same thing you've (wrongly) accused those of us who've been critical of Obama of doing, providing support and cover the right.

Furthermore, since the conservative line has been that universities should be run like corporations, more and more administrators are being hired out of the private sector where they can receive far higher salaries so that "attracting" them means having to pay them more than you would faculty who'd been promoted upwards within the school and actually understand how the university works, what it is good at and why, etc. - at least to the extent that the Peter Principal applies.

At the same time, the folks making this critique VERY carefully have not compared the wages of similarly educated and experienced folks in the private sector to those in university administrations nor do they want to note that it is true that it takes dough to attract good people to Big Rapids, Mount Pleasant, Saginaw, Marquette, Houghton, downtown Detroit, Flint and other places across the state where people who can get jobs in seemingly way nicer and cosmopolitan places might not see as their first choice as a place to live, work and raise a family. Similarly, folks who make these arguments never note that absolutely very very very few major and high wage private businesses exist in those places in large part because they are remote and next to impossible to draw "high status, highly talented" people to. This is all part of the attack on public space and public institutions you would otherwise attack with great passion... why are you supporting it here?

Last, your failure to note the deep textual manipulations in article is remarkable... manipulations I'm pretty sure you've noted elsewhere w/r/t public employees and teachers. They talk about "positions" not high paid positions and then give you a graph for administrator pay not a tally of what the positions that increased were. Then, as Republicans have been doing for years, they talk about compensation not wages and I can assure you that a very large percentage of the increase in compensation comes from increases in the price of benefits, mostly medical which are rising in large part because Republicans insists on defending our utterly irrational, nowhere-near-free-market health insurance-driven system of treatment but never prevention.

There's no need to think that the increase in administrative "positions" and administrative and faculty "compensation" is a good thing or that it is adding value to the quality of education to utterly reject or find contradictions in articles like this.

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