Universities Are Cutting Tenured Faculty While They Load Up on 'Non-Academic' Administrators

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As the cost of college remains exorbitant, recent trends indicate schools in the United States are trading tenured professors for non-academic administrative staff. It's pretty clear where American colleges have their priorities, and it's not in academics. Students are paying more to attend schools that are spending less to teach them, and instead spending that tuition money on administration.

According to a new report from the New England Center for Investigating Reporting, “the number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years.” Meanwhile, full-time tenured faculty positions are at the lowest rate in 25 years, while the prevalence of adjunct professors – part-time, non-tenured professors – is at its highest. In fact, according to the American Association of University Professors, “more than three of every four (76 percent) of instructional staff positions are filled on a contingent basis," meaning without tenure.

The rise of adjuncts and decline of tenured professors has been ongoing for decades:

American Association of University Professors 

The reason that non-tenured professors are so much more popular than tenured faculty is simple: they’re cheaper. Adjunct professors, especially, make very little. Most are paid on a per-course basis, making somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000 for each course taught.

House Committee on Education and the Workforce 

The result is an income a fraction of their tenured counterparts. Universities and colleges can get the same number of courses for a much lower price, slashing their bottom lines. Of course, the quality of those courses is questionable, as adjunct professors often juggle inconsistent schedules overfilled with courses (which they take on in excess to earn a higher income), and adjuncts often find themselves without even the most basic things, like adequate office space for student meetings. Nor do most adjuncts receive typical employee benefits. The story of Margaret May Vojtko went viral late last year after she died without health care coverage and drew significant attention to the plight of adjuncts in the U.S. They’re stretched to the absolute limit while trying to teach a full load of courses, which puts the quality of their teaching at risk.

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So on what are universities and colleges spending the money they save from employing non-tenured faculty? The answer, it would appear, is administrative staff. Schools have dramatically increased the number of non-academic administrators whose duties lie outside the classroom and research lab. Sure, they’re saving oodles of cash by turning to part-time professors instead of tenured faculty, but according to Donna Desrochers, a researcher at the Delta Cost Project, “other factors that are going on, including the hiring of these types of non-academic employees, have undercut those savings.”

Schools are spending more on “non-academic employees” while cutting costs on instructional staff. What’s more is that this comes at a time when inflation-adjusted tuition has nearly doubled over 25 years. Universities and colleges are bringing in more money, only they're committing it to administrative staff rather than instruction. 

Photo by Jeremy Wee via Shutterstock. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.