The Los Angeles Times revealed last Saturday that the number of managers and administrators in the University of California system has grown by 60 percent over the past 15 years, far more than enrollment growth at 38 percent. The disproportional rate of bureaucracy growth has sparked a debate about whether the UC system spends too much money on administration.
As more questions arise about why UC administration has increased dramatically while tuition has risen, the numbers at USC seem to be telling largely the same story — albeit on an even grander scale. As an investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting recently concluded, the size of USC’s administrative employees have grown 305.8 pecent in the past 25 years. However, there is not enough data to definitively conclude how much rising tuition — which has risen 173 percent nominally over the same time period — contributes to the rising bureaucracy. And as Todd Dickey, senior vice president of administration, has argued, the data could be skewed. But when students have no other choice but to respond to the NECIR and the L.A. Times’ figures about UC administration increases, the narrative forms that California colleges — including USC — have been spending tuition on bureaucrats at a time when it claims to be cutting costs.
In light of the NECIR investigation and larger outlets’ spotlights on bureaucracy, it is surprising that the University has not released more information. And as more are considering whether bureaucracy is linked to exponentially rising tuition costs, to continue to remain opaque about how tuition dollars are allocated demonstrates the University’s deliberate lack of transparency. Moreover, it suggests that to USC, a favorable media image is more critical than students’ accessibility to essential information about an institution to which they pay one of the highest tuition rates in the nation.
That’s not to say that the 300 percent increase in administrative employees has gone completely unexplained. According to an interview with the Daily Trojan, Dickey has said that these administrative staff increases are largely due to increases in hospital staff, researchers and staff to fundraise for the University. However, USC has not released quantitative data to demonstrate how these decisions have been made.
Moreover, the University’s increased bureaucracy may not exactly be in the place that students want to it to be — the University has not paid for more officials in student services, cultural centers or academic advising, areas which could benefit from bigger staffs.
More data needs to be released to determine whether USC’s increased bureaucracy is necessary, especially considering it has cut costs in other areas. Most notably, the rise of adjunct and part-time faculty instead of full-time professors has allowed the University to minimize costs. But adjunct faculty make about $5,000 per semester. It’s a tragedy, then, that the University has hired more bureaucratic staff at the expense of giving faculty the wages they deserve.
The University’s administrative decisions do not occur in a vacuum. Students should be part of the conversation to increase the University’s staff, and they want to be part of it. More importantly, they have a financial stake in the University’s choices. It’s time for an honest conversation between administration and students about how tuition is spent.