Concerns about administrative bloat

Dear Colleagues:

Speaking for your Faculty Senate Officers, I can confirm that we receive a lot of input about constituent concerns whether it be through our concerns website, Senate Steering and Senate meetings, or through discussions and emails. The path to addressing such concerns is, frankly, much smoother when we have data-informed discussions. Here is one example to consider.

We frequently hear concerns expressed about administrative bloat at WSU. Most recently, concerns have been raised about “yet another” administrative position in the form of a VCAA for the Pullman campus. Early last semester, I worked with chair-elect Christine Horne to gather information about administrative appointments and salaries so we could address this very issue…but among other challenges, we struggled with how to define administrative appointments; many are partial appointments and at what level should we be concerned?

Despite these challenges, during our November meeting between the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and the President and Provost, we raised this issue as a concern. Both acknowledged that there is a genuine perception of bloat, but they challenged us to define a standard of comparison. For example, if you compared the WSU administration in 2022 with the administration in 2000, they would look very different, but our institution/system has grown considerably since then. How do you define what is excess vs. what is appropriate?

It turns out that this is not an easy question. As far as we know, there is no standardized database that collects public information about administrative appointments that can be used for meaningful comparisons (although there might be some information available through Academic Analytics and this will be investigated). In some cases, we have peer institutions that don’t even post their administrative titles with executive webpages…suggesting that they might be trying to avoid attracting attention to this information.

On the plus side, both the President and Provost indicated their willingness to discuss this concern in more depth provided that we have data to inform the discussion (and the Provost’s Office has been looking into how such data might be retrieved).

Until we have such data, however, I can share two observations.

  • In my experience working with the President’s Office and the Provost’s Office, I can assure you that our administrative team is working very hard. And to be fair, in some cases our administrators may be asked to do more than is reasonable simply because there is so much that needs to get done (sound familiar?). I’m not seeing a lot of bloat from this perspective.
  • If you know of any data on this issue that you can share, please notify me or anyone else in senate leadership.

Without such data, complaints about administrative bloat are not much different from just hand waiving. Photo of Faculty Senate Chair, Doug Call

Thanks for considering this perspective.


Douglas Call, Faculty Senate Chair

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1 comments on "Concerns about administrative bloat"
  1. There is a constituent concern titled ‘Vice-chancellor Position & Administrative Expenses Concern‘ that points to WSU’s higher than average expenditures on administration versus instruction, compared to its peers. Data from the NCES Finance Survey documents that WSU’s administrative / instructional cost ratio (an indicator of how much the institution spends on administration vs. instruction, for example, a ratio of 0.25 means that the institution spends 25 cents on administration for every dollar it spends on instruction) is much higher than peers (0.28 vs. 0.19 in 2020). The UW’s main campus is even lower, with a ratio of 0.14. The raw administrative cost per student also clearly shows that WSU’s administrative costs are higher than peers. While this data alone does not fully address the complex issue of administrative costs across our growing system, it does suggest that WSU should investigate how to better manage administrative costs to bring them down to a level consistent with peers.

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