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Diversity and Other Administrative Monstrosities: The Case of the University of Michigan

Mark Perry, an economics professor at the University of Michigan at Flint and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, recently calculated that his university has nearly 100 diversity administrators, more than 25 of them earning over $100,000 a year. Collectively, they cost the University of Michigan, with fringe benefits, about $11 million annually. Adding in other costs such as travel and office space expenses, the total cost rises to perhaps $14 million, or $300 for every enrolled student at the U of M in the fall semester 2017.

Moreover, the “diversicrats” raise costs even more through their dictates to the faculty. Suppose a nuclear engineering program has three superb white male applicants for a faculty position, and one far weaker nonwhite female candidate with fewer publications, poorer teaching evaluations and a poorer academic background. The department would normally bring the three top persons to campus to interview, but in today’s environment would likely be forced by the diversicrats to bring in the nonwhite applicant as well –and then have to argue fiercely in order to hire one of the superior white male individuals.

My guess is that 50 years ago the number of such diversity employees was zero. A second guess is that if the number went to zero again overnight, there would not be a major change in the personal or biological characteristics of students or faculty. For every bigot who thinks “I don’t want to hire him because he is black,” there are several other persons who say “to promote equal opportunity, diversity and justice we should give an advantage to the black (female, gay, Hispanic, etc.) applicant.” Faculty survey data from the National Higher Education Research Institute back this claim up.

If I am about right, by eliminating all diversity officers the U of M could in time eliminate this $14 million expense and lower tuition by $300 for every student or offer $1,200 more financial aid (tuition discounting) for the 25 % of students with the lowest ability to pay. The U of M could become a bit more affordable for those challenged by its already very high fees.

But what if, in addition to wiping out the diversity bureaucracy, the U of M eliminated a quarter or more of other administrators? The Provost’s Office, for example, includes, in addition to the provost, 39 “senior staff” and 26 “additional staff.” Not only does the U of M have its own secretary of state (“vice-provost for Global Engagement”) but also a deputy secretary of state (an “associate vice-provost”) as well. Couldn’t the provost limp along with only 40 staffers under him instead of 65? The College of Literature, Science and the Arts has 14 administrative offices within it (!!) independent of the academic departments that actually teach, and has 15 organizational charts for those trying to navigate its administrative maze. The College’s CFO has 12 employees, the academic affairs office has 14, web services employs 12, while the management information systems office lists 12. I suspect the whole college has over 100 administrators –and that does not include the academic departments! And there are 18 other colleges or academic units.

I suspect it would be easy to design a U of M with at least 500 fewer administrators saving well over $50 million annually--$1,100 per student. My suspicion is that the main functions of the university –teaching and research--would function better without so much internal regulation and supervision of mostly responsible professionals. Doing more with less.

Administrators have taken control of universities and have very few incentives to cut costs, to reduce the size of their empires or their power over the faculty. Governing boards do little true oversight, and are wined and dined by top administrators and are bombarded with often distorted information. The diversity rent-seeking scam –staff making six digit salaries to browbeat academics into behaving in a politically correct way—is accompanied by others –in public relations, in “sustainability” initiatives, and so forth. And the U of M is far from unique, indeed it is probably rather typical of major American universities. University faculty are sometimes spoiled and pompous, on average doing too little teaching and too much research of trivial value, but their complaints about university administration are mostly right on target.

Richard K. Vedder is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Economics at Ohio University, and co-author (with Lowell Gallaway) of the award-winning Independent Institute book, Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America.

From Richard K. Vedder
CAN TEACHERS OWN THEIR OWN SCHOOLS?: New Strategies for Educational Excellence
In Can Teachers Own Their Own Schools?, Richard Vedder examines the economics, history, and politics of education and argues that public schools should be privatized. Privatized public schools would benefit from competition, market discipline, and the incentives essential to produce cost-effective, educational quality, and attract the additional funding and expertise needed to revolutionize school systems.