A “proliferation of administrators”: faculty reflect on two decades of rapid expansion
Yale’s administration has grown rapidly, which some professors say negatively impacts faculty and students.
Vaibhav Sharma, Photo Editor
Over the last two decades, the number of managerial and professional staff that Yale employs has risen three times faster than the undergraduate student body, according to University financial reports. The group’s 44.7 percent expansion since 2003 has had detrimental effects on faculty, students and tuition, according to eight faculty members.
In 2003, when 5,307 undergraduate students studied on campus, the University employed 3,500 administrators and managers. In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on student enrollment, only 600 more students were living and studying at Yale, yet the number of administrators had risen by more than 1,500 — a nearly 45 percent hike. In 2018, The Chronicle of Higher Education found that Yale had the highest manager-to-student ratio of any Ivy League university, and the fifth highest in the nation among four-year private colleges.
According to eight members of the Yale faculty, this administration size imposes unnecessary costs, interferes with students’ lives and faculty’s teaching, spreads the burden of leadership and adds excessive regulation. By contrast, administrators noted much of this increase can be attributed to growing numbers of medical staff, and that the University has proportionally increased its faculty size.
“I had remarked to President Salovey on his inauguration that I thought the best thing he could do for Yale would be to abolish one deanship or vice presidency every year of what I hoped would be a long tenure in that position,” professor of English Leslie Brisman wrote in an email to the News. “Instead, it has seemed to me that he has created one upper level administrative position a month.”
In an email to the News, University spokesperson Karen Peart pointed out that while the University’s managerial staff has increased over the last two decades, so too has the faculty, which has grown by 54 percent. She further noted that the Yale School of Medicine has grown its clinical practice in recent years, which required the recruitment of new staff and “has been vital to the city and state during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Growing government requirements imposed on universities may have contributed to the administrative expansion. According to a report from the American Council on Education, in 2013 and 2014 alone, the United States Department of Education added new rules and regulations on 10 new issue sets, including grants, loans and campus crimes. The report further details that, according to data from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, “the number of federal requirements placed on colleges and universities grew by 56 percent between 1997 and 2012.”
However, Paul Campos, a professor of law at the University of Colorado and an expert in the economics of higher education, said that the burden imposed by government regulations is “overblown” and that it fails to adequately explain the significant growth in administrators. He suggested that the main driver has been the desire of administrators to accumulate power and influence within their institutions.
Professor of political science James Scott agreed with Campos, adding that while all Ivy League schools are subject to similar levels of government regulation, Yale still leads the group in manager to student ratio.
“One [cause] is the tremendous increase in revenue generated by these universities that more or less has to be spent,” Campos said. “This means that as revenues go up, there has to be found ways to spend them. And one of the most natural ways to increase spending is to increase administration, the size of it and the compensation of the top administrators in particular.”
Since 2003, the University’s operating revenue has jumped 200 percent from $1.5 billion to $4.6 billion.
Campos argued that federal regulations stand as an excuse for, not a driver of, the expansion. He said the administration sets out to grow in power and influence, and that administrators point to issues such as federal regulatory compliance as a justification for growing and extending their power.
Professor of English David Bromwich pointed to a similar cause of this growth.
“Yale, like many other universities, clearly now wants to be known not only as a place for teaching, learning, and research, but also as a home, a community, an innovative corporate entity,” Bromwich wrote in an email to the News. “The swollen self-image requires expanded oversight, and administrators are the overseers.”
Additionally, the growth may have partially stemmed from student requests. Hannah Peck, the assistant dean of student affairs at Yale College, told the News that the Student Affairs team added four new health promotion positions as part of the YC3 program.
“Students have consistently requested more mental health support on campus and we are thrilled to be able to provide it,” Peck wrote.
Peck further noted that the University needs to balance the requests of students with the careful management of Yale’s resources.
University President Peter Salovey emphasized that the administrative growth has been proportional with the growth in faculty size and in University revenue. He reiterated that the growth in the Yale School of Medicine’s clinical practice has been a significant and worthwhile cause of the administration’s increased size.
Campos suggested that besides the growing desire for power and control within institutions of higher learning, the growth of administrations can also be attributed to faculty giving up their role as managers of the University, ceding that position to external non-academics.
Professor of history John Gaddis, however, said that the faculty’s waning role in University leadership hasn’t been driven by faculty themselves, but by the administration.
“Yale’s proliferation of administrators, I think, reflects a reluctance on the part of its leadership to lead,” Gaddis wrote in an email to the News.
Regardless of its origins, the administration’s increased size imposes significant oversight on faculty, while also increasing costs to the University, according to six professors.
“I think we don’t yet have a Vice President for the rights of the left-handed, but I haven’t checked this month,” Brisman wrote. “I think that if there weren’t so many people interfering with students’ lives (e.g., leave policy) and faculty choices (e.g., tenure review) there would be plenty of funds for more real teaching and research positions.”
Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science Nicholas Christakis concurred, saying that any growth in the administration “can often come at the expense of advancing our primary mission, [and] is therefore mis-spent and inefficient.” He further noted that sociological analysis suggests that “it is in the nature of bureaucracies to grow relentlessly, unless actively checked.”
Joel Rosenbaum, professor emeritus of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the Yale School of Medicine, said that the increased size of the administration adds significant red tape. Rosenbaum said that whenever a faculty member wants to alter a course or a department wants to hire a new professor, there is now much more administration “to fight your way through.” Rosenbaum has been a faculty member at Yale since 1967.
“The more administrators you have, the harder it is to get anything done and everything slows down,” Rosenbaum added.
Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84, Sterling Professor of law at Yale Law School, also described how the administrative infrastructure creates work for itself.
“My sense is [that] we have more staffers and bureaucrats than we actually need, and they generate all sorts of paperwork for the rest of us,” Amar said.
Lauren Noble, the founder and executive director of the William F. Buckley Jr. program at Yale, pointed to the fact that the number of Yale’s administrators today exceeds the number of faculty — 5,066 compared to 4,937 — which “raises important questions about the university’s allocation of resources,” she said. “It’s unclear how such a significant increase advances Yale’s mission.”
Amar also suggested that a large administration that is more involved in the lives of students can have a detrimental effect on the undergraduate experience.
“I think we have a lot of Deans of Student Affairs, who are not tightly connected to the residential colleges and they balkanize us,” Amar said. “We have a lot of these Deans for different parts of Student Affairs that are actually detracting from the residential college experience.”
Campos suggested that the growth of student-facing administrators is the product of a cultural shift in which all of the needs of students need to be appeased. He said that the growth in the administration informs the “full service ethos” at large universities, where student’s needs — “real or perceived” — have to be catered to.
One of the other primary concerns with this growing administration is that it leads to increased tuition. Mark Oppenheimer, a lecturer in the English department, said that one of the main concerns with adding “unnecessary administrators” is that it might come at the expense of keeping tuition lower.
Peart did not directly respond to a request for comment on the effect that the size of the University administration has on tuition.
Campos confirmed Oppenheimer’s fear, saying that the disproportionate growth of the administration “absolutely” has a role in the rising costs of tuition.
“It’s a pandemic,” Scott said of the proliferation of administrators. “And Yale may have a particularly severe case.”
The University’s personnel costs totaled $2.7 billion in 2021 — marking a five percent increase from 2020, according to the most recent financial report.
Correction, Nov. 11: The article has been updated to reflect Professor Christakis’ accurate title.