May 12, 2018

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE, ADMINISTRATIVE BLOAT EDITION: Administrative Bloat On Campuses Isn’t Just Expensive, It’s Stifling.

Graeber observes that, in the 20-year period from 1985 to 2005, the number of administrators increased at universities by 85 percent while the number of students and faculty increased by only 50 percent. In that same period, the number of administrative staff ballooned by a staggering 240 percent.

Graeber attributes this condition to “managerial feudalism,” and the label has not been misapplied. The aristocracy he describes is barely distinguishable from seigneury. Department heads and faculty deans are beneficiaries of a modern form of Manorialism. After all, what is a lordship without vassals? As Graeber outlines, reputation demands that every administrative staffer of sufficient rank retain at least four or five subordinates. “Office workers are typically kept on even if they are doing literally nothing, lest somebody’s prestige suffer,” Graeber wrote.

Payroll costs are expensive. It is no coincidence that in nearly the same period that Graber identifies as the point at which university administrative staff began to expand exponentially the cost of achieving a higher education exploded. Between 1985 and 2011, the cost of a four-year degree increased by 498 percent while consumer inflation rose by just over 100 percent. American incomes have only just about kept pace with inflation in that same timeframe, so the cost of college has for many become a prohibitive expense even if it is increasingly a necessary one.

If only someone had warned about this.

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