19.6.17

DRAIN. THE. SWAMP.

The Illinois Policy Institute weighs in on the recent departure of Northern Illinois University president Doug Baker.  Yes, they made much of his severance package, which looks like a bargain compared to what ineffective football coaches get, but they later got to the heart of the matter.
These golden parachute severance packages and wasteful spending scandals reflect an underlying problem in Illinois: the misplaced priorities within its higher education system. Administrative payrolls and benefits have exploded, while students and taxpayers struggle to pay for it all.

The number of university administrators in Illinois grew by a third between 2004 and 2010, while the number of students grew by less than 3 percent, according to a report from the Illinois State Senate Democratic Caucus.

And those administrators don’t come cheap. Over half of Illinois’ 2,465 university administrators received a base salary of $100,000 or more in 2015. These hefty salaries lead to ballooning retirement costs that crowd out spending on students.

In 2015, more than 50 percent of the state’s $4.1 billion budget for public universities was spent on retirement costs alone.
I'm sure the usual suspects will point out the necessity of a subset of these bureaucrats in order to comply with unfunded governmental mandates (another reason, as if we require additional reasons, to roll back the administrative state) but I was unable to find the statute that raises the utility of an inspiration officer.  I wrote, "Where is the faculty leadership to point out that these administrative usurpations are disrupting the community of scholarship, and not in a good way?"  Perhaps like me, they quit, although it's unlikely I'd find much sentiment among the emeritus faculty that there have been too many management fads (some concurrence), too much special education (secret readers of Rate Your Students might concur in part), and too much affirmative action (when I wanted to be provocative, I'd say "admit unprepared students and call it access" and stand back).  Perhaps, though, the administrative usurpations include shrinking the size of the faculty and rendering it perpetually overtired.

Regime change gives the editorial board at DeKalb's Daily Chronicle opportunity to issue their wish list.
The culture of secrecy, the inclination by the university to bury and hide information from the public, should end with the next administration. So, too, should the search for loopholes and other ways to hire people at extravagant salaries to perform administrative functions.
I'd welcome a presidential hopeful who publicly says it's time to shrink the pool of deanlets and deanlings by ten percent, on the principle that inspiring the faculty to do more with less doesn't work so well when the corps of deanlets and deanlings keeps growing, and they keep issuing new ukases in order to show that they are doing something.

I'd take this request and edit it as follows.  "A leader who will consider the needs of faculty and students in addition to rather than adding to the administrative workforce."

In this observation, recognition of a challenge of long standing.  In some ways Northern Illinois is a more complicated university than many, and the staffing of evening classes and satellite centers isn't easy, particularly with no resources for incentives.  "A president who will consider not only the needs of students who live on campus, but also of the commuter student population, which is an important component of the student body at NIU and long has been."

And there are challenges more general.  A corrupt, secretive presidency at one university does give legislators an additional stick to beat it with.  "Real openness can pay dividends with the community, the faculty, students and even lawmakers in Springfield, who will be happy to use any excuse they can to underfund the university – when they get around to funding it at all."

But higher education more generally has been breaking faith with legislators, with parents, with students, with donors for years, and higher education's case for subsidies and contributions has become weaker with time.  That goes beyond politics: that there is no common curriculum, that there are ways to graduate without studying calculus and a laboratory science: internally self-inflicted wounds.

Likewise, there's more to falling enrollments than corrupt presidents and excessive football ambitions.  "New leadership must be able to make a convincing case to counteract all those who would advise our state’s youth to leave the state to seek an education."

The punitive taxes might have something to do with the brain drain.  Moreover, we can't fault higher education for driving the Power Ball lottery out of Illinois.   That's a different swamp to be drained.

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