Archive for Thursday, December 16, 2010

Heard on the Hill: Administrative costs study causes stir; mother, daughter catch up with ‘Free Hugs’ guy; a call for other KU’s to cease and desist

December 16, 2010


• A somewhat controversial study has been attracting a little buzz recently. picked up a study that detailed — among other things — what it called a dramatic rise in administrative spending in many Big 12 universities, including at KU, where it said “administrative costs” had more than doubled.

But, several have pointed out some potential issues with the study.

One such issue might arise with the study's sponsor, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

The Kansas blog Dome on the Range said the organization may have a political agenda, calling it “a right-wing group founded by Dick Cheney's wife and other notable regressives like William Bennett and Irving Kristol.”

KU spokeswoman Jill Jess told that the study seems flawed— that it apparently doesn’t include data from KU Medical Center in earlier years and then adds it later, to make it seem like a larger spike in administrative costs. And, she adds, they never seem to specify what “administrative costs” even mean.

And just looking at it myself, when it measures the tuition increases it doesn’t seem to take into account KU’s four-year guaranteed tuition compact when measuring an overall increase. (Granted — bottom line, that might not matter to families who have to foot the bill).

So, I look at all of this with a grain of salt, but what it really gets me wondering is this: If I wanted to truly measure administrative cost increases at KU over time, what would be the best way to do it? We've done plenty on actual cost increases and decreases, but I've never thought to try to segregate out "administrative" costs somehow.

I’ve heard anecdotal griping over the years about increases in the number of vice provosts, associate vice provosts, etc. But I’ve never seen any real data to know if that’s even an issue. Maybe I could look at the number (and costs) of specific positions. Or look at how much the chancellor’s office, or the provost’s office, have spent over the past few years. That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure some smart Heard on the Hill readers have better ideas. Anyone have a good idea on how to measure that kind of spending, or even think it’s worthwhile? And is that study worth much to you, with the concerns listed here?

"Um, why don&squot;t you stay over there," Haley Harrington, a KU sophomore, seems to be saying to the Free Hugs guy spotted on campus Tuesday.

"Um, why don't you stay over there," Haley Harrington, a KU sophomore, seems to be saying to the Free Hugs guy spotted on campus Tuesday.

• Heard on the Hill fan Brenda Harrington writes in to note that she not only saw the “Free Hugs” guy mentioned in yesterday’s post, but she also grabbed a photo.

Actually, she said, she really just wanted the man to take a photo of her with her daughter. But — because he initially thought they wanted a photo of him — she relented, and snapped a quick photo of the Free Hugs dude and her daughter, Haley Harrington, a KU sophomore from Lawrence.

And, as her mother indicated, Haley — while smiling nicely for the camera — seems to be making quite certain that the man with the cardboard sign stays on his side of the Jayhawk statue.

• I troll the Internet for all kinds of KU news every day. I’m interested in what a variety of voices are saying about this place, and that means skimming a lot of headlines. Occasionally, I’ll run into something that will give me a small heart attack, because I’ll think I’ve missed something critical. Like this news story.

I guess you can just call this my plea to Karachi University in Pakistan and Kutztown University in Pennsylvania (among others) to stop putting the abbreviation “KU” in places I can see it.

• Wednesday brought news that KU’s law dean search would be reopened, which the Heard on the Hill faithful had wind of earlier this week, thanks to brilliant Heard on the Hill tipsters who knew ahead of time. I love you all.

• See how much fun it is to send in tips for Heard on the Hill? Stick it to the man by e-mailing me at


bradh 7 years, 3 months ago

Regressive? Sounds to me like your source had a political message of their own to pass on.

ahyland 7 years, 3 months ago

Good point! Didn't mean to gloss over that, for sure.

KU_cynic 7 years, 3 months ago

Re administrative costs: I don't know what would be the most appropriate method for measuring administrative costs, but the conclusion is pretty much foregone: they rise faster than other cost categories.

New faculty negotiate for their salaries, and are typically paid more than comparable faculty incumbents. Their salaries are "marked-to-market" so to speak, reflecting that they "win" a beauty contest of sorts among competing candidates. Incumbent faculty frequently see their salaries compressed or even inverted to these new hires. So, for most in-place faculty members salaries rise slowly -- or not at all as in recent years.

There's more of a revolving door for all the vice-provosts, assistant-associate-vice-chancellors, and so on. Many of these people are at-will professional employees, so when they're hired they command high wages and they don't enjoy the job security of tenure. When tenure-track faculty cycle in to the academic positions in administration they typically get boosts to their faculty salaries. If they're good, they often compete upwardly and externally for new positions, getting salary boosts along the way. If they're not good, they cycle out to be replaced -- at a higher salary -- by the next experiment in "leadership".

The end result of administrator mobility -- in, up, and out -- results in salary escalation compared to the normal trend among the tenure-track teaching faculty. And so administrators eat a bigger and bigger slice of the fiscal pie over time.

Bill Lee 7 years, 3 months ago

Kansas University doesn't own the letters K and U. Get over it.

KS 7 years, 3 months ago

You want to stop another university from using the letters "KU"? Rehire Lew!

ahyland 7 years, 3 months ago

A quick note — a student wrote in to tell me that, though I read about Karachi University all the time in the Times of India, the city is most definitely in Pakistan. Thanks for the correction!

Steve Bunch 7 years, 3 months ago

Regarding administrative costs, I think you need to start with a definition of administration. One rough determination could be any staff member who has supervisory and/or budgetary responsibilities. In the case of a department chair, that might be a difficult calculation (i.e., what percentage of that person's salary is administrative as opposed to teaching, since chairs have both responsibilities). In my view, if you're responsible for people (i.e., assign their work, evaluate their performance, etc.) or a budget, you're an administrator. Finding all the university positions that meet either of these criteria might be difficult, though.

ahyland 7 years, 3 months ago

And this blog loves you! Seriously, it wouldn't be the same without all the folks interacting with me and each other. That's what makes this really cool to me.

WilburM 7 years, 3 months ago

How about a simple count by decade 1970 on? KU has stayed more or less the same size for quite a while. Certainly there are some federal/state laws/funding that may require more folks, but I'll bet that the ratio between faculty and administrators has systematically gone done over the last 40 years, and probably at an accelerating rate.

Steve Bunch 7 years, 3 months ago

But as I've already noted, many faculty are also administrators. It's not that simple. Moreover, many (probably most) non-teaching staff are not administrators.

WilburM 7 years, 3 months ago

It's not that hard, honestly. If you look at the KU budget, a public document, you get a breakdown of positions. And increasingly when someone is in an admin position above that of dept. chair he or she is essentially a full-time administrator in the way the work day is spent.

Steve Bunch 7 years, 3 months ago

But a position title isn't necessarily going to tell you if the person has administrative responsibilities. For example, you might have a title of IT Manager but not have any budgetary or personnel responsibilities. Instead, your job may be to see to it that a group of servers is functioning optimally in support of faculty or other staff. To me, that an operations function, not an administrative one, but because the word "manager" is in the title someone else might assume it's administrative. A point made in the article is that the "study" didn't define "administrative," which makes it impossible to know which functions are being included and which are not. Not being contentious here, just trying to suggest that such a study, while not impossible, requires some basis other than a vague notion of what is administrative.

Frank A Janzen 7 years, 3 months ago

Here's a story of cheating in India: Police open fire after guardians demand cheating be allowed Feb. 14, 2007

Police fired in the air after people, demanding that their wards be allowed to cheat in a test, pelted stones at them and torched part of an examination centre and two vehicles in Madhepura today. In a rerun of a similar incident in neighbouring Saharsa yesterday, the people, waiting outside the B N Mandal Stadium where over 8,000 students were appearing for their intermediate zoology paper, turned violent when they were prevented from passing notes to their wards and brickbatted police, officials said. Police fired 30 rounds in the air after failing to control the situation with the use of teargas, they said. Ten people, including five policemen, were injured in the violence and stone pelting, officials said. The mob torched a police vehicle and the car of the district public relations officer parked outside the stadium. They also burnt one of the pandals erected in the stadium for the examination, officials said. The students fled the scene after the violence erupted and the examination was later cancelled.

These examinees said they should be allowed to cheat as their teachers had not finished the curriculum in the classroom... The absenteeism of teachers remained just as before and the general lackadaisical attitude towards learning remained ditto as in the past years. .

Steve Bunch 7 years, 3 months ago

If you mean in the headline, no it isn't.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.