The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All The Administrators

The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All The Administrators

We last met Ron Srigley in the pages of the LA Review of Books lamenting the sad state of students and professors. He’s back to tell us the infuriating tale of how bureaucrats have taken over the universities, to detriment of all, but with the complicity of all.

As before, I’ll let Srigley (obviously a Canadian) do his own talking, in “Whose University Is It Anyway?”. Read the whole thing. If anybody after reading both of his essays, and having familiarity with similar literature, you feel the overwhelming urge to reach for the bottle, might I recommend Old Overholt? Cheap, yes, but tasty, and it does the trick. Before you reach the state where the vertical becomes ambiguous, know that hope is in sight in the new old university.

These excerpts are not in the same order as Srigley’s piece.

1. It’s worse than you thought.

As one Canadian university president I know said to a colleague who had expressed an interest in Montesquieu’s political thought, “Why study him? He’s dead.”…We now have intellectual philistines settling the matter of what our children need to know.

2. No, really, it’s far worse than you thought. “Administrators control the modern university. The faculty have ‘fallen,’ to use Benjamin Ginsberg’s term. It’s an ‘all-administrative’ institution now.” Diversity bloats administrations. I believe my alma mater boasts of eight different diversity offices (these things are hard to count).

In 1970 in the United States, 268,952 administrators and staffers supported the work of 446,830 full-time professors. Today, the proportions have almost flipped. Now we have 675,000 professors being “supported” by 756,595 administrators and staffers. This isn’t support any longer; it’s a coup d’état, one that students have been bamboozled into paying for…

In Canadian universities, part-time faculty now do 60 percent to 70 percent of the teaching because full-time faculty have been cut so dramatically.

3. Not just worse than you thought, but depressingly worse. God save us from “metrics”.

Faculty members are the ones who are now accountable, but no longer to their peers and students and no longer regarding mastery of their subjects. Instead, they are accountable to administrators, who employ an increasingly wide array of instruments and staff to assess their productivity and measure their performance, all of which are now deemed eminently quantifiable. In place of judgment regarding the quality of their work we now have a variety of “outcomes” used as measures of worth. Student evaluations and enrollments (i.e., popularity), learning as determined by “rubrics,” quantity of publications, amount of research dollars, extent of social “impact” are the things that count now. In other words, only things you can quantify and none of which require judgment.

4. He who has the power is in charge.

Argue with an administrator that she may be mistaken about a given policy or practice, say that you and your colleagues have come up with good reasons to reconsider or revise it, and you can prepare yourself for the empty stare, the subsequent conversation-killing nod, and the condescending assurance that your suggestion will be taken under advisement. Robert Buckingham at the University of Saskatchewan knows how it works. He was fired, stripped of tenure, and frog marched off the campus for what, in the real world, should have been an entirely benign and even welcome act — criticizing an administrative restructuring plan.

5. And that power is all in the hands of administrators.

But as for fundamentals, everyone understands and agrees about the path to be taken: administrators are free to govern the university in whatever way they see fit so long as the mandate is furthered. If this requires some rough play to get the job done, so be it. If it requires, say, serially violating collective agreements to assert dominance and set precedent; or creating new review bodies to undermine existing faculty review bodies and then populating them with administrative plants to get the desired results; or tampering, directly and indirectly, with administrative and faculty hiring committees;…

6. The greater the proportion of kids going to college, the lower the average performance. And boy do they pay a lot for not doing so well.

By all available metrics, student intellectual performance has declined precipitously as the university administration has ballooned…

From 1991 to 2016 Canadian post-secondary tuition fees increased a whopping 263 percent. Student debt grew apace. In 1990, the average Canadian university student owed roughly $8,000 upon graduation; by 2016, that number had risen to over $28,000, and there is evidence that the real number is even higher once private and provincial loans are added to the calculation…

What the all-administrative university offers them is not an education but a credential with a market value and ample statistical evidence to demonstrate the necessity of having one if they wish to prosper economically…We don’t mind if you become illiterate. We don’t mind if you can’t read or write. And we don’t even mind if important parts of your humanity wither completely. Let’s just call it the price of progress and our overwhelming economic and military dominance.

7. On the curriculum and culture.

Evidence has been mounting that the administrative concern with productivity and commercial application has done as much to ruin science as it has the humanities. Today scientists are forced by administrators and government funding bodies to produce new, exciting research with immediate economic benefits…

The destruction of the humanities is both similar to and different from that of the sciences…Rigor is difficult and unpopular; pandering is easy and pleasant. And since the whole world panders to students in order to extract from them a portion of their considerable resources, why resist the flow?…

The irrelevance of knowledge and insight for participation in the culture is already plainly visible…

Thought and criticism belong to a previous dispensation, which is now over. Books, curricula, professors, students, dialogue, classes — all antiquated features of the content-driven structure of the old university. They are all disappearing for the simple reason that students are no longer in universities to study or to know anything…

8. They get paid how much?

In 2011, David Johnston, president of the University of Waterloo, made $1,041,881. Indira Samarasekera of the University of Alberta had a total compensation package of over $1.1 million in the final year of her contract. Elizabeth Cannon of the University of Calgary and David Turpin of the University of Alberta banked $897,000 and $824,000 respectively during the 2016–’17 academic year. Even presidents at small- and medium-sized universities now routinely receive between $300,000 and $500,000 in compensation, this not including additional forms of remuneration that combined can reach as high as $200,000 per year….

What’s even more troubling is how expensive these people are once they leave their institutions. Former president of Dalhousie University, Tom Traves, received $1.3 million in compensation in the three years following his retirement in 2013…[etc. etc. etc.]…

The facts are so compromising that universities go to great lengths to conceal such agreements. But when word does get out and criticism comes, the excessive compensation is usually justified in two ways. First through appeals to fairness: presidential salaries must be in line with market values. But “market values” in this case are other presidents’ salaries, so the argument is a shell game. A second justification is that if you want talent, you have to pay for it. This was Chakma’s defense of his own extraordinary compensation. It too is an illusion, however, a bit of corporate sophistry on the part of the money-hungry that’s now made it’s way into the academy.


  1. Pournelle’s Iron Law at work. In colleges, they appear to be misspelling ‘bureaucrat’ as ‘administrator.’ Of course, they’ve also been misnaming “Witchsmeller Pursuivant” as “The Office of Diversity.”

  2. Marc Meinzer

    It’s a conflict of interest that universities are permitted to award their own degrees; all degrees should be available by examination conducted by an impartial board so that students could study independently without paying to be in essence “baby-sat” by custodial institions such as residential colleges at universities. Doing one’s degree online is not really the same thing as simply challenging a series of examinations or submitting a dissertation.

  3. Kalif

    One would think that the invisible hand of free market would sort things out (deep sarcasm), but it looks more like the invisible hand is showing us the middle finger.
    Seriously, degrees are a product that is bought and sold in this country, especially in private schools/univ. The more expensive the degree, the less incentive for school to get rid of non-performing students. Stuff like this does not happen in heavily centralized countries where govt. is in charge. But you know, it’s ‘gubmint’, must be bad automatically, because it says so in the agenda.
    When people wake up and realize that education and health ‘care’ can’t be run like businesses, it may improve.

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