An alternative source of analysis and commentary

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Honest and unhindered discussion is essential to the intellectual and spiritual health of a university, and Ohio State is no exception. What we publish on this site is meant to further such discussion, and do so in a way that can be shared with the university community and beyond.

Our articles and commentary will be focused mainly on issues pertaining to the university community. Comments to our articles or blog posts are welcomed, but will be moderated.

The Editors


Web Site Structure

In our current mode of operation, new articles of emphasis will appear on the Front Page, where they will remain until archived in the appropriate section. For example, our lead article on administrative growth, upon completion, will eventually reside in the section devoted to Governance and Administration.

Other articles and commentary will appear in their indicated section from their inception. In either case they can be located in the "What's New" lead-in to the Front Page.

This site is not a static entity, and will evolve with time. However, all changes will be announced, so that any previous article whose location has changed can be easily found.


What's New

An Analysis of Administrative Growth at OSU.....................................................................................The Front Page  

0. Background

1. Growth and Decay

2. National Trends

3. An AAU Comparison 2003 - 2013

4. An AAU Comparison 2012 - 2015

5. The FaST Survey of 2015 - 2016

6. The University Senate Report of 2016

7. OSU's Vice Presidents 2007 - 2015

8. AAU World University Rankings 2004 - 2016

9. Conclusion

10. References and Links

An Analysis of Administrative Growth at OSU  - followup..................................................................Editor's Blog     


The Front Page

An Analysis of Administrative Growth at OSU

by SM

0. Background

The expansion of university administrations over the last twenty to thirty years has been substantial, and much has been written about this phenomenon. The overall numbers are staggering; over the 25 year period 1987 - 2012, colleges and universities throughout the country added over half-a million administrators and professional employees, amounting to an average of 87 new managerial hires per business day, every week, for this quarter century period.

Unfortunately, Ohio State University has been one of the oft-cited examples of inequitable institutions which have placed a premium on administrative "excellence" at the expense of support for their underlying academic mission. In a May 2014 Institute for Policy Studies article presenting a comparative study of 25 state universities, the authors ranked Ohio State as the overall #1 offender in terms of an assortment of different metrics which included student debt, executive compensation, over-reliance on adjunct faculty and teaching assistants, and increased student-teacher ratio. This study provided the background for another article appearing in The Nation the same month with a banner headline loudly proclaiming Ohio State to be the "most unequal public university in America". This following a study done the year before by Economics Professor and AEI visiting scholar Mark Perry on administrative bloat at OSU, in which he investigated the adverse effects of trying to run a research university where the ratio of non-instructional employees to full-time faculty is more than 6:1. And a year after, in 2015, the nationwide epidemic of operational obesity among American universities was examined in an opinion piece appearing in the NYT Sunday Review, in which the author reached many of the same conclusions regarding the deleterious effect of ever-increasing administrative costs on university functioning, and in particular staffing by regular faculty, observing that

According the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.

Two takeaways from these various different articles, penned within a recent three-year period, is that when it comes to the coupled themes of administrative bloat and executive over-compensation, i) the concern spans the ideological spectrum, and ii) Ohio State University is repeatedly held up as the embodiment of this bureaucratic blight.

So how did Ohio State University evolve into the epitome of egregious executive excess it has been widely reported to be? And how does it compare to other universities of similar size and stature? Have the years of managerial multiplication had any adverse effect on the comparative ranking of the university? And has there been any improvement in the situation since the advent of President Drake's tenure?

In this article we will explore these questions in some detail, hopefully arriving at not only an accurate picture of where OSU stands currently, in relation to its peer institutions, but also some conclusions as to what should be done .

1. Growth and decay

We will be focused primarily on the quantifiable aspects of universities' administrative growth, both at OSU and nationwide. For the most part, commentary and conclusions will be deferred to the end. However, before embarking on this journey, some general comments and thoughts about the phenomenon under discussion.

In all natural systems, regardless of the level of complexity, stability and continuity - sustainability - is achieved through maintaining some degree of balance. Actions incur reactions, life is paired with death, predator with prey; positive cancels and is cancelled by negative... the list goes on. It is through the balancing process provided by continuous adjustments and self-corrections that large sudden changes, or catastrophic collapses, are avoided.

The same is true with social systems, be they political, commercial, or educational. Long-term viability is achieved through some collection of checks and balances that, through continuous self-correction and feedback, maintain the integrity of said system. For a publicly-owned corporation, that feedback might come from the marketplace, the stock exchange, and stockholders' majority opinion. In the US political arena, checks and balances built into the system of governance and the electoral process - in theory at least - allow for democratic representation to be realized. And when the mechanisms of self-correction and maintaining balance break down, become corrupted, the system it was designed to maintain loses integrity and ultimately ceases to function in the manner intended. In particular, when the rules and laws guiding that mechanism of self-correction are no longer upheld or enforced in a rigorous and unbiased manner, then systemic degradation is inevitable and systemic failure - even total collapse - at some point becomes unavoidable.

In the United States, universities (whether public or private) have a large degree of commonality in their overall structure and functioning. They all have departments comprised of faculty, almost all of whom have a PhD in their given areas of expertise, aspects of which are communicated to their students by teaching. And they all have an administrative body that - in theory - provides support and assists faculty in achieving the educational mission of their institution. Rules of governance provide the roadmap for maintaining the integrity of that mission, and when properly formulated and enforced - when those guidelines involve inclusive democratic governance and are respected - integrity can be maintained; even positive healthy growth is possible in such an environment.

However, university rules and regulations - for the most part - are typically designed to provide a thorough circumscription of allowable behavior for faculty, staff, and students. Rarely do they provide similar guidelines for their administrative counterparts. To some degree this is to be expected, since the bylaws of a particular university have often been crafted by, or at least in close consultation with, the administrators themselves.

In particular, it is very rare to find written guidelines regarding how, and under what circumstances, university administrators should be hired or fired, what warrants promotion, what their qualifications should be, and to what extent faculty should be involved in the decision-making process when it involves administrative issues of this nature.

This is certainly the case at OSU, where shared governance (between faculty and administrators) currently exists as an abstract concept - as well as the occasional administrative talking point when the need for such pretense arises - but does not manifest itself beyond the imaginary in any meaningful way. And the corrosive effects of its absence can be seen in the levels of disfunctionality that plague the University's deliberative bodies which (again, in theory) were expressly designed to promote such a type of governance; the University Senate and the President and Provost's Advisory Council being the two most prominent on that list.

In short, the mechanisms for maintaining balance and preserving the integrity of the educational process through shared governance no longer exist at OSU, and the consequences of the resultant degradation of university governance are easily identifiable.

Excessive, unwarranted growth of OSU's administrative/managerial population and their compensation are two such consequences.

But again, these are symptoms of disease which should not be confused with their underlying cause. Our goal, then, will be to take a close look at the numerical data that quantifies the degree of this growth, both at OSU and nationally. We will then see if the emergent picture suggests any practical means whereby the current affliction of administrative obesity at OSU can be ameliorated, and possibly identify methods by which it has been reversed at institutions where the data indicates a substantial reduction in their administrative ranks.

A final caveat: current educational data will allow us to provide multiple comparative analyses, establishing OSU's ranking relative to other institutions nationwide according to a number of different metrics. But a good, or even exceptional relative ranking should not be conflated with an absolute measure of bureaucratic well-being, given that the problem of chronic administrative expansion is a national one not constrained to any particular institution.

. National trends

Administrative "bloat" is not a recent phenomenon, and has been the focus of many detailed studies going back decades. As a descriptive expression, though, it seems to have come into being in 1991 when Academe (published by the AAUP - American Association of University Professors) devoted an entire issue to what was even then a chronic problem. Appearing in that issue was the article "Bloated Administration, Blighted Campuses" by Barbara Bergmann, Distinguished Professor of Economics at the American University and (also, at the time) President of the AAUP. In the event some future institute is ever founded for the sole purpose of eliminating this blight, the first two paragraphs of Bergmann's article could serve as an appropriate engraving conspicuously displayed above the main entrance:

Undetected, unprotected, and unchecked, the excessive growth of administrative expenditures has done a lot of damage to life and learning on our campuses. On each campus that suffers from this disease, and most apparently do, millions of dollars have been swallowed up. Huge amounts have been devoted to funding administrative positions that a few years ago would have been thought unnecessary.

If it were just a matter of the money wasted, that would be bad enough. But the bloating of college administrations over the past decades has made administrative performance worse rather than better. It has bogged us down in reels of time-consuming and despair-creating red tape. It has fostered delusions of grandeur among some of the administrative higher-ups, whose egos have grown along with the size of the staffs under their supervision.

Beyond that, Bergmann's article gives a long-range perspective on growth of administrative costs, noting that in the 1930's, American universities spent on average 19¢ on administration for ever dollar spent on instruction, an amount which grew to 27¢ by 1950 and 45¢ by 1987. It is perhaps worth noting that current data are hard to correlate directly with these historic numbers, and many recent articles offer statistics without sufficient clarification of the categories to which they refer. However, going back 60 - 80 years, it would certainly be the case that nearly all instructional faculty at accredited universities would be full-time employees, although by 1987 that would no longer be the case. Thus to give an apples-to-apples comparison one should properly compare administrative costs as a percentage of outlay for instruction by regular full-time faculty.

And if we do that, we find a proportionality that was 19% in the 1930's, 27% in 1950 and perhaps 50-60% in 1987 climb to nearly 100% by 2012 (a 2012-2015 analysis for all AAU universities, in which we compute this ratio and others, appears below):

Figure 1N

Given this rather troubling upward trajectory, it is appropriate to ask

* what does current data tell us about the particulars of non-instructional growth, and more specifically

* how does administrative growth at OSU compare to that of other institutions?

One of the best studies on these issues was presented by Curtis and Thornton in their 2014 paper Losing Focus. Itself a summary and written in a lucid but taciturn style, it is hard to summarize further; for that reason we will simply touch on the main points (the article itself is a worthwhile read for any serious student of these issues).

Consider their first figure, detailing the various growth rates among 7 different categories of university employees:

Source: "Losing Focus"

Over a 35-year period ending in 2011, according to the Curtis-Thornton analysis, the class of full-time non-faculty personnel grew at sixteen times the rate of full-time tenure and tenure-track faculty, with even the executive category expanding at more than six times that of their regular faculty counterparts (and keep in mind these are the national rates, for all domestic accredited universities that have been in operation during this time period).

An even more depressing graphic arises if one adjusts for the growth of the overall student population from 1975-76 to 2011:

This normalized bar graph shows rather clearly that the increase in full-time non-faculty employment is not a function of increased enrollment, but something else entirely. It also demonstrates the continuously increased hiring of non-tenured or tenure-track instructional staff to offset the 34% decrease in regular faculty (per fixed number of students) over this 35-yr period.

And as for compensation? The authors compared median executive raises to weighted means for the three main categories of full-time regular faculty (by rank) and arrived at

Source: "Losing Focus"

Interestingly, one sees that the situation (in terms of income inequality) is at least as bad at private universities as it is at public, overall; a bit surprising, given that one might suspect faculty at private universities might have more of a say in the matter.

Finally, the authors also address the issue of athletic expenditures. Many large universities justify their multi-million dollar sports programs and Division 1 teams with the argument that they are revenue-generators, and pay for themselves. It is fair to say that this belief is widely held amongst the overall university populations. However, the authors point out that

The NCAA collects annual data on revenues and expenses of athletics programs from its member institutions. In the reports for 2012, of the more than one thousand college and university members of the NCAA, only twenty-three institutions reported that their athletic programs ran a surplus, with revenues greater than expenses. Those twenty-three institutions were all in D1-A.

Then what exactly is the justification for the types of salaries made by head coaches at these universities? And might one at least expect some leveling-off of their raises, given the ever-growing imbalance between athletic and faculty salaries? Curtis and Thornton graphically answer this question as well (offered without further comment).

Source: "Losing Focus"

Again, it is worth noting the scale on which this is occurring - tens of millions of students attending thousands of universities throughout the country every year, with the population growing year by year. What kind of budgetary numbers are involved? Visit the website of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and see that

In academic year 2013–14, postsecondary institutions in the United States spent approximately $517 billion (in current dollars). Total expenses were nearly $324 billion at public institutions, $173 billion at private nonprofit institutions, and $21 billion at private for-profit institutions.

It is hard to find much good news in any of these national statistics. Suffice it to say, coming off comparatively well in terms of the above metrics when compared to peer institutions is almost meaningless, given these trends.

In the next installment, we will narrow our focus somewhat to a cohort of 59 research universities comprising the members of the AAU (OSU being one member) for which national educational data has been recorded.

[References: National full-time enrollment figures from 1965 projected through to 2025 can be found here.]

3. An AAU comparison 2003 - 2013

The Association of American Universities (AAU) consists of 62 institutions, 2 of which are Canadian with the remaining 60 residing in the continental US. Most of the top research universities are members of the AAU, including OSU, and all of the members are leading academic institutions with active research and graduate programs. Our original goal was to provide comparative analysis for all 60 US-based members, however NCES data is unavailable for one of them (Univ. of Texas - San Antonio), leaving 59.

During the period 2005 - 2014, total AAU enrollment has represented 7 - 8% of the total undergraduate enrollment nationwide, starting at 1.36M FTE (full-time enrollment) in 2004, gradually rising to 1.56M FTE in 2014. In other words, a large enough cohort from which to draw statistically meaningful conclusions.

The following table lists the total number of full-time executive, administrative, and managerial (EAM) staff employed at these 59 institutions for the odd years between 2003 and 2013 inclusive.

Table 1

Data Source: Higher Education Data Center

There are quite a number of different conclusions one is able to draw from this set of data. To begin with, we can look at the growth of the total number of all such staff over all 59 institutions, and the unweighted average per institution:

 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013
 35059 36179 43093 45165 47184 48971
 Av./Inst. 594 613 730 766 800 830

Over a ten-year period, an increase from 35059 to 48971 corresponds to an annual growth rate of approximately 3.4%. Referring back to Figure 1, a national increase of 369% in the category of all full-time non-instructional staff over a 35-year period correlates to an annual growth rate of 3.8%. In other words, two annual growth rates that are quite comparable.

Graphically, we have

Data Source: Higher Education Data Center

Now, referring back to Table 1, we can compare this average (or total) growth to that of those institutions whose EAM staff grew by at least 200% over this ten-year period (of which there were eight):

                                          Graph 1

Data Source: Higher Education Data Center

This graphically demonstrates that out of 59 peer AAU institutions, OSU stands in a class by itself in terms of uncontrolled expansion in its bureaucratic ranks for this period of time. Moreover, one clearly sees the rapid increase for OSU as beginning not in 2003 but rather in 2007, slowing slightly between 2009 and 2011, and then heading skyward in 2011. This is in stark contrast to the period 2003 - 2007, when the EAM numbers at OSU slightly decreased.

What can account for this? Certainly not student enrollment at the main campus. In 2007 the FTE at OSU was almost exactly twice the average AAU FTE per institution. So, beginning in 2007 and continuing through to 2013, it is reasonable to compare full-time enrollment at OSU's main campus with this scaled average for all AAU institutions (which, of course, is directly proportional to the total full-time enrollment for all AAU institutions). Doing so gives us this

Data Source: Higher Educational Data Center

Except for a slight deviation in 2010 and 2011 these two sets of numbers coincide almost exactly. On the other hand, the population of OSU's full-time EAM staffing during this period (indicated by the previous graph, in green) grows much more rapidly than the corresponding total population for AAU institutions overall (presented in the purple). So increase in enrollment can be definitely ruled out as a potential explanation for OSU's ballooning bureaucracy during this 6-year period.

Then what? Was there a corresponding increase in regular faculty employment? Again, it is worth looking at the data for all of AAU. In the case of regular (tenured and tenure-track) faculty, our HEDC data begins at 2005:

Table 2

Data Source: Higher Education Data Center

The total percentage increase here is, as one might have suspected, a small fraction of the corresponding total EAM percent increase computed in Table 1, which is roughly 29 times larger. Nevertheless it is a slight increase, which is certainly preferable to the 2.35% decrease that occurred in the number of regular faculty at OSU's Main Campus during the 2005 - 2013 interval. In fact, a majority of AAU members - 35 - either maintained or increased their regular faculty numbers during this time. Only 24 did not. Ordering in terms of largest increase (Yale comes in first with a remarkable 54%) to largest decrase (Tulane Univ. comes in 59th with a 37% decrease), OSU ranks 43rd out of 59. Of course, this is without any adjustment which takes into account the increase in enrollment at these various institutions.

In any case, it is clear that we can also eliminate any sort of corresponding regular faculty growth as a possible cause for OSU's burgeoning bureaucracy, since there was none.

A third possibility, often put forth by OSU leadership, is increased Federal regulation. In other words, increased staffing needed to deal with an increasingly complex and intrusive Federal Bureaucracy, and the guidelines it imposes in order for universities to qualify for Federal monies. First and foremost on this list, of course, is Title IX compliance. This is an extremely complex issue which is, currently, getting a great deal of attention in the courts, and is something we plan to investigate in detail in a future Front Page article. Suffice it to say, the particular set of regulations associated with this DC dictum was formally launched in 2011 with the issuance of the (infamous) "Dear Colleague" letters from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). However, these guidelines apply to all US universities, and in particular, all of the 59 AAU members listed in the two tables above. If there had been a national surge in EAM staffing as a consequence of universities throughout the country having to create larger bureaucracy to handle the different aspects of Title IX compliance, then one would expect there to be a spike in the total number of AAU member's EAM staff between 2011 and 2013.

Referring back to Table 1, we see that the EAM total in 2011 was 47,184, which increased to 48,971 in 2013, a 3.8% increase over a two-year period, corresponding to an annual rate of 1.9% - well below the average annual rate for AAU members of 3.4%, computed above for the longer 2003 - 2013 time frame.

So this third frequently proffered "explanation" is equally nonsensical, as the period during which Title IX compliance could have had an effect on such staffing actually saw a significant decrease in the EAM growth rate.

What else could it be?

Perhaps we should consider leadership. The 13th President of Ohio State University was Karen Holbrook, who served a five-year term in that position from 2002 - 2007. In 2007 (after a short interim stint by J. Alutto), she was followed by Gordon Gee, who had served as OSU's 11th President from 1990 - 1998.

Gee's term lasted 6 years, spanning the period 2007 - 2013.

So the picture becomes quite clear. During Holbrook's term, there was a nearly 14% decrease in the full-time EAM staffing on OSU's Main Campus, going from 1080 in 2003 to 952 in 2007. In fact, the 2003 - 2005 period saw an even greater decrease of nearly 21%, at the end of which time the EAM population stood at a mere 858 (which then headed back up during the next two years).

During Gee's term, on the other hand, this administrative group grew from 952 in 2007 to 3,906 in 2013 (his final year at OSU), an increase of 310%.

It was this during this period of time that OSU was repeatedly held up as the poster-child for excessive bureaucratic bloat and executive compensation. With Gee's own annual compensation regularly coming in north of 3 million dollars, along similar largesse being directed towards the ever-growing managerial class he headed, it is not hard to see why. Of course there is much more valuable information to be gleaned from this data, much more than we can present here with any sort of completeness. However, one in particular is worth noting.

Out of the 59 institutions, more than a quarter have significantly decreased their EAM staffing in the last two years of the ten-year period in question, including five Ivy League universities (Brown, Columbia, Harvard, U. Penn., and Yale):

Table 3

Data Source: Higher Education Data Center

Did these universities suffer academic decline as a result? Looking at national as well as world rankings (presented below in Section 8), the answer is most assuredly: NO. In fact, it seems more likely that this administrative pruning freed up scarce resources which were redirected towards the original academic missions of these institutions, giving them a new lease on life.

Perhaps OSU could follow their lead.

[References: The spreadsheets used in the preparation of the above tables may be found here, while the 177 Higher Education Data Center source files from which they were compiled can be viewed or downloaded here. These source files contain much additional information on staffing, including breakdowns according to gender and demographics.]

Added note: Occasionally universities undergo rapid administrative growth due to addition of new facilities, or a physical expansion of their campus. For example, the EAM staff of G.I.T. grew gradually from 115 to 141 in the period 2003 - 2011, and then exploded upwards to 945 in 2013, an increase of 570% over two years. However, G.I.T. is undergoing a major extension with the development of their new Technology Square Project in Atlanta. Similar considerations seem to apply to Princeton, which also experienced rapid growth of their EAM staff during the same period.

On the other hand although OSU did undergo some expansion and renovation during this two-year time frame, it was not on a scale that could explain such a huge increase in numbers. In particular, the $1B expansion of the Medical Center - approved by the B.O.T. in 2009, did not break ground until the next year and was not completed until 2015. So although some of the administrative hirings in the 2011 - 2013 period would have been  due to this expansion, it would seem that the vast majority were associated with other parts of the OSU bureaucracy (a hypothesis additionally supported by the rapid growth of the number of Vice Presidents during this time, all in non-medical administrative positions. This growth is analyzed in section 7 below).

4. An AAU comparison 2012 - 2015

The previous analysis using the HEDC database took us to 2013. More recent information can be found on the Federal Government's National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) website, which began recording non-instructional data for universities beginning in 2012.

Again, one needs to proceed with a bit of care when comparing statistics. Numbers such as total employment or total student enrollment will agree from source to source, since there is little ambiguity as to what is being measured. But when it comes to things such as categories of employment, there can be substantial variation. The term "management" is somewhat vague, and may be defined differently in different studies, depending on the criteria used to include or not in such a subcategory of university staffing.

Thus, it makes sense to compare data on management or administration for one institution with that of another when they have the same source, but less so when they don't.

So for this section we restrict ourselves to information coming from the NCES database, for the academic years 2012-2013 through 2014-2015. A desirable feature of this recently upgraded NCES system is that for each category one has not only the numbers of staff but the total compensation (outlay) awarded in a given year. Thus we are able to compare not only populations but also costs.

We can begin with a comparison of total non-instructional staff (as defined by NCES) and their total costs for the 59 AAU universities listed above, for these three years:

Table 4

Data Source: National Center for Educational Statistics

We see here that

*) The rate of total FTNIS growth in numbers over all AAU institutions was modest: 2.47% from 2012 to 2013, and a mere 0.37% from 2013 to 2014. Although positive, it is certainly below the average annual growth rate of 3.8% for the same category that we saw earlier in the AAUP national study (covering 1976-2011). And OSU's FTNIS growth rate for this period is comparable to the overall AAU average: 2.36% from 2012 to 2013, and 1.62% from 2013 to 2014. Again, this is for all non-instructional staff, not just the EAM subcategory considered in the preceding section.

*) The cost side of the picture is more troublesome, with total AAU increase in FTNIS outlay rising 5.26% from 2012 to 2013, and 5.41% from 2013 to 2014, which still yields significant growth even after adjusting for annual increases in the CPI. Here, OSU fares considerably better than the AAU average with annual increases in FTNIS outlay coming in at 4.35% and 2.41%, respectively.

When comparing administrative costs, it is clear some sort of adjustment is in order to take into account the effect of enrollment. It does not make sense to compare unadjusted FTNIS numbers and outlays for, say, Brandeis (FTE ~ 5,400) with those of OSU (FTE ~ 50,000). One simple solution is to normalize by dividing by the institution's FTE. This does run the risk of overcompensating for size (due to economies of scale that may be in effect). Nevertheless, normalization in this fashion provides a reasonable metric for comparing institutions.

And by this metric, OSU fares reasonably well. If we view a low FTNIS-O/FTE ratio as representing superior efficiency in the category of non-instructional costs, then for each of the three academic years in question, OSU ranked in the top 15 out of the 59 institutions (FTNIS-O = full-time non-instructional outlays):

OSU FTNIS-O/FTE costs 2012 - 2015 vs AAU averages

 Academic Year
 2012 - 2013
 2013 - 2014
 2014 - 2015
 OSU: FTNIS-O/FTE (rank)
$10,429 (14th)
$10,713 (14th)
$10,839 (15th)
$14,481$15,020 $15,608

Again, there are many different types of valuable non-instructional services provided by universities, and a high FTNIS-O/FTE ratio should not be presumed to correlate with a high degree of inefficiency; it is simply one measurement among many that can be used to get a clearer picture of a given institution's performance.  To illustrate; in each of the three years, the Univ. of Buffalo (SUNY) comes in with the lowest ratio (~ $6,700), while California Institute of Technology has the highest (~ $82,000 in 2012-2013 rising to ~ $88,000 in 2014-2015). However, C.I.T. has the lowest enrollment of any AAU institution, by far - approximately 2,200 each academic year. Moreover, it has substantial amounts of external funding, and is not typically identified as an institution suffering from administrative  overgrowth.

One can consider similar ratios for other types of outlays, such as managerial costs. And in this category  OSU performs much more poorly. In fact, for each of the three years in question, OSU had the 2nd highest outlay for management, surpassed only by Harvard. And normalizing with respect to FTE, OSU fares only slightly better (MAN-O = management outlays):

MAN-O & MAN-O/FTE costs 2012 - 2015

OSU vs Harvard vs AAU averages

 Year 2012 - 2013 2013 - 2014 2014 - 2015
Harvard: MAN-O$239,557,308$260,474,528$262,720,699
 Harvard: MAN-O/FTE (rank) $11,825 (58th) $12,798 (58th) $12,860 (58th)
OSU: MAN-O$190,338,462 $203,646,697$208,181,005
OSU: MAN-O/FTE (rank)$3,884 (39th)$4,072 (40th) $4,112 (39th)
AAU: Avg. MAN-O/FTE $2,980$3,145 $3,277

And what about staffing? Computing the ratio of management vs instructional staff provides a reasonable gauge of management efficiency, given the primary mission of any university (especially the collection of top research universities comprising the AAU). Logically a low ratio should reflect a prudent and economical use of managerial resources.

Here again, OSU's performance is near the bottom, with a total managerial staff more than double the AAU average of 46-47%. Equally troubling is the modest but noticeable growth of this ratio over the three years in question, a growth well above the AAU average. Among public institutions, OSU's ratio in this category was exceeded each year by only one other institution - the Univ. of Rochester (to add insult to injury, Harvard - which ranked 58th out of 59 in the first two years - outperformed OSU in the 2014 - 2015 academic year, coming in 54th out of 59 with a MAN-N/FTIS-N ratio of 99%).

MAN-N as a percentage of FTIS-N 2012 - 2015

OSU vs AAU averages

 Year 2012 - 2013
 2013 - 2014
 2014 - 2015
 106% (57th)
 110% (56th)
 111% (56th)
 46% 47% 47%

Finally, we compare expenditures for full-time regular (non-medical) faculty (FTIS-O) with the FTNIS-O numbers AAU universities, by computing FTNIS-O as a percent of FTIS-O.

 Year 2012 - 2013
 2013 - 2014
 214 - 2015
 223% (37th)
 227% (37th)
 228% (36th)
 220% 222% 221%

There are quite a few top universities that have higher ratios with much higher rates of increase (for example, Harvard's FTNIS-O/FTIS-O ratio starts at 268% in 2012 - 2013, and rises to 330% in 2014 - 2015). However, among public institutions outside of California, OSU's ratio is among the highest. And, as mentioned before, one would expect economies of scale to work in OSU's favor. Moreover there are no shortage of top universities with very low ratios. The same FTNIS-O/FTIS-O table for NYU in New York City:

 Year 2012 - 2013
 2013 - 2014
 214 - 2015
 131% (1st)
 134% (2nd)
 129% (1st)
 220% 222% 221%

Does NYU "retain its top management" by offering compensation packages that are competitive with those offered by neighboring corporations and industry in the greater metropolitan area? Almost certainly not, considering that it is within walking distance of Wall Street. It seems much more likely that managers and administrators at NYU are attracted (and retained) by its world-wide reputation in academics and research.

So although this more recent NCES data suggests that OSU is not the outlier it seemed to be during the 2003 - 2013 period, it also shows there is enormous room for improvement when it comes to controlling non-instructional costs.

In fact, it shows an urgent need for substantial cost reductions in the FTNIS category for all AAU institutions.

Consider: OSU ranks in the top 25% in terms of its FTNIS-O/FTE ratio (as we saw above). But although low when compared to other AAU institutions, this cost per full-time student is almost exactly equal to OSU's full in-state tuition (for 2015 - 2016 it was $10,037). In other words,

If all of OSU's students were in-state, and the university had no other sources of income besides tuition, then after paying the salaries of their full-time non-instructional staff, there would be no money left to pay anyone else.

Needless to say, OSU did not start out this way. In the next section we will look at the results of a recent survey, in which OSU's Arts and Sciences faculty has quite a bit to say about these (and related) issues.

[References: The data used in the preparation of the above tables may be found here, which (for the three academic years indicated) contains complete numbers and outlays for staff in the following categories:

1) full-time non-instructional

2) managerial

3) budget and finance

4) office and administrative support

5) full-time non-medical instructional

Also included are the full-time enrollment numbers for each institution.]

Added note: Using the sum of items 2, 3, and 4 for the spreadsheet linked above, one arrives at a reasonable approximation for what classically was referred to as "administrative costs". Labelling this "AC" and  FTIS-O as "IC" we have the following ratios (AC as a percentage of IC) for OSU and the AAU average:

 Year 2012-2013 2013-2014 2014-2015
 125% 129% 128%
 AC/IC% - AAU average
 99% 101% 101%

This justifies the statement made earlier in section 2 (prior to the first graph) that this percentage had essentially doubled (from about 50% to around 100%) in the last 30 years. Moreover, we see OSU's ratio as significantly above the AAU average (it is not the highest among all 59 AAU members, but it is in the top 10 for each of the three years indicated).

5. The FaST Survey of 2015 - 2016

One of the rationales for administrative expansion commonly offered by the President on down during the Gee administration was that it was an essential step in elevating OSU's academic standing, that it would provide the leadership necessary in taking the university to the next level. But was it necessary? And did it have the positive effect its proponents claimed it would?

Given the complimentary terms most administrators at OSU typically use when describing their various bureaucratic endeavors, and the high opinion they seem to have for their own efforts, it is reasonable to wonder if these estimations are shared more broadly. In particular, are the well-publicized and well-documented opinions of OSU's EAM class widely held by the OSU Faculty as well? After all, the faculty - according to the OSU administration's own pronouncements - is world-class. They include many world-renowned experts and leaders in their field. They are, by all accounts, a fact-based community of unimpeachable integrity. It follows, then, that genuine administrative achievement, visionary executive planning, and prudent but wise budgeting would be rightfully acknowledged and lauded by  the regular faculty, the professional group most affected by those actions and decisions. At least that would seem to be a reasonable hypothesis.

In the academic year 2015 - 2016, an anonymous group of ASC Faculty (calling themselves FaST - an acronym for "Faculty Survey Team") put this hypothesis to the test in the form of two surveys, one administered in Autumn 2015, the second in Spring 2016. The first dealt with "Academic Wellness" in general, while the second focused on financial concerns. Each survey consisted of nine statements conforming to widely held administrative/managerial positions or beliefs, and faculty were asked the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with each  statement. The surveys were open to all regular ASC faculty (about 1,000) and ASC emeriti (about 400) - not all OSU faculty to be sure, but a very large and representative segment of the full faculty body.

Following each survey, the complete results were made available in the form of downloadable documents posted on the FaST website (and shortly thereafter summarized in an article appearing in the Lantern.) Two of the questions directly pertaining to the size of OSU's EAM staff and quality of leadership it has exhibited yielded the following results:

Source: First Academic Wellness Survey (FaST)
Source: First Academic Wellness Survey (FaST)

Regarding the numbers and distribution of respondents, the FaST Survey Summary included a breakdown of the 556 faculty members who indicated their rank (the topic of the 10th question on the survey):

Source: First Academic Wellness Survey (FaST)

Suffice it to say these responses are not exactly what one would expect to find at an institution transitioning from Excellence to Eminence under the inspired and enlightened guidance provided by OSU's EAM leadership.

The survey also afforded the opportunity for participating faculty to include comments with their response, which for the Academic Wellness Survey elicited over 1,400 replies, almost all strongly critical. Regarding leadership, many noted the insularity of the upper administration and its disconnect from the faculty body. A respondent who strongly disagreed wrote:

Senior leadership seems ineffective and insulated from the faculty and the mission of the college. Many perceive that those at the higher levels of administration are there primarily to enhance their CV as they aspire to higher positions...a stepping stone rather than demonstrating a full commitment to assisting the faculty in accomplishing our mission of teaching and research. Assisting faculty...........there's a novel concept. Administration seems to take on a life and purpose of its own and does not seem to work well with the faculty. The faculty of a university should be central to the mission and the administration is there to serve not the other way around!

As for question 6 relating to bureaucratic growth, it should be noted that the overwhelming consensus is that there had been significant growth just within the last 5 years (2010 - 2015), with a majority stating that it had not just increased, but greatly increased, introducing vast amounts of waste and inefficiency into the university's system. A typical response:

The senior bureaucracy seems bloated with a lot of overpaid people whose duties are unclear but seem to include cheerleading and self-advertising, and perhaps writing slogans. This seems to be the result of a corporate model for an academic institution. Of course the institution needs to balance its books, but why are the worst aspects of corporations (the Senn-Delany nonsense comes to mind) considered the best things to imitate? The HR system has been complicated into dysfunction.

The results of the second survey (which also had a significant response rate) showed an equally large variance of opinion between the administration's view of their own fiscal management of the university, and the faculty's estimation of their performance. These survey results have been presented and summarized elsewhere, and our purpose here is not to revisit them in their entirety, but rather to observe that both the phenomenon of, and the manifold problems associated with unchecked bureaucratic growth - already identified as chronic by Prof. Bergmann over a quarter century ago - continue unabated here at OSU, at least according to the overwhelming consensus of ASC faculty responding to the FaST surveys conducted within the last year and a half.

Now one might argue that the FaST survey is just that - a survey. It is a collection of opinion, not of fact, even though most of the opinions expressed are clearly based on an extensive and detailed understanding of the facts. However, a more recent study by OSU's University Senate provides further validation of the consensus opinions recorded in these FaST surveys. We discuss it next.

6. The University Senate Report of 2016

In Autumn 2016 the Faculty Compensation and Benefits Committee (FCBC) of the Ohio State University Senate finalized their report on the topics we have considered here, as they pertain to OSU, for the time period 2000 - 2015. As summarized in their introduction

The figure [Figure 1 below] shows rapid growth in administrative employment, at an average annual rate of 5.4% over the 15 year period. Associated and clinical/research faculty grew rapidly as well – by 3.9% and 10.9% annually. In contrast, the number of tenure track faculty was roughly constant from 2000 to 2010 and declined by 10% over the five year period from 2010 to 2015. See Table 1 for a summary of the growth rates. The table also shows that growth in enrollment at OSU (including regional campuses) from 2000 to
2015 was 16.9% (20% at the Columbus campus), or a 1.1% annual rate.

Figure 1: 2016 Univ. Senate FCBC report

Using publicly available data posted on the Delta Cost Project (DCP) website, they compared OSU's bureaucratic growth and decline in regular faculty numbers with those of 20 peer AAU members. They found 

... that the number of tenure track faculty per 100 FTE students at OSU has been lower than average among our public peers over the past 25 years, with the gap increasing over time. Administrative employment per 100 FTE students was very similar at OSU and our peer institutions though 2008, but diverged sharply thereafter, remaining constant for the peers while increasing rapidly at OSU. Note that this is total “executive/administrator and manager” employment as defined by each institution, including OSU. So we are not able to focus on upper level administrators in this comparison. The third panel [of Figure 2] shows that the ratio of tenure track faculty to administrators was similar at OSU and our peers in the early 1990s, and then diverged, especially after 2008. The ratio remained roughly constant at 4.6 at the peer institutions, but declined at OSU from 4.4 in 1990 to 2.0 in 2012.

A breakdown of OSU administrative growth is provide by Table A-1 of their Appendix A (represented below in graphical form):

(graphical representation of Table 1, App. A of FBCC report)
Data Source: OSU Office of Human Resources

The report (available here, along with its appendices) is short, and well worth the read. The authors are quite careful in defining categories of employment, and interpreting the data downloaded from the DCP website.

In conjunction with the prior analysis presented above, we see

*) the University Senate's FCBC's conclusions regarding trend lines of administrative growth at OSU, using DCP and OSU HR data, are completely consistent with  the trend lines derived from other national educational data sources - specifically the NCES and HEDC educational databases;

*) the report provides unambiguous corroboration of widely-held faculty opinion regarding bureaucratic growth, as recorded by the first FaST survey of 2015 - 2016;

*) from both the HEDC-based data (see Graph 1, Section 3 above), and the Senate's FCBC comparative analysis of DCP data, OSU began its bureaucratic divergence relative to its AAU counterparts in the 2007-2008 period, to the point where its FTIS/FTEAM ratio is well below that of its AAU peers.

7. OSU's Vice Presidents 2007 - 2015

The Senate's Report discussed above presents numbers of administrators, broken down into various categories. But it does not give a sense of what the total cost to OSU might be, in terms of compensation. To get a better sense of what the numbers might be at the executive level, we take a closer, quantitative look at one particular administrative category representative of OSU's upper executive branch; one that is usually found in the business world, but rarely in the academic - Vice Presidents (there seem to be a large number of top-notch universities that function quite well without even one administrator in this class; exactly how they are able to accomplish this is unclear).

Our data source for the information provided here is the Columbus Business First's (CBF) searchable database of OSU Salaries, which has salary information going back to 2007 (with one gap year in 2009, during which CBF did not publish any salary data for OSU). Given that almost all of OSU's Vice Presidents are employed by a single unit (even if they have more than one title), we have used the listed "Total Salary" appearing in the CBF database as the number most accurately reflecting total compensation (for the years beginning in 2012 when the salary records became much more detailed). 

To begin with, we can look at the overall total numbers in the different categories:

OSU VP numbers by rank: 2007 - 2015

Data Source: Columbus Business First

Prior to 2013, OSU had 6 VP categories (with the Exec. VP corresponding to the Provost, and typically consisting of only one person, except during years of transition). Beginning in 2013, the rank of "Senior Associate Vice President" was eliminated (and seems to have been incorporated into the Associate VP class).

This graph is consistent with what we have seen previously, which showed rapid administrative growth during the last 3 years of the Gee administration. It also suggests that the majority of the growth indicated in the 2010 - 2015 category of Figure 1 of the University Senate Report most likely occurred in the shorter 2010 - 2013 period. As for compensation by category we have

OSU VP total compensation by rank: 2007 - 2015

Data Source: Columbus Business First

Again, consistent with the numbers we saw before. The period of rapid growth of VP compensation, from 2008 - 2012, represents an increase of over 100% in total outlay. And although the amount is "only" on the order of $10M, this quantity at the top of the administrative pyramid undergoes a significant multiplier effect when one looks at the corresponding outlays for the administrative staff working under them. Moreover, even though there has been a slight decrease in recent years, in both numbers of VP's and the total compensation afforded them, other aspects of of the salary data for this group of employees is cause for concern; in particular, the significant increase in administrative bonuses awarded to members of this group.

For information beyond total received salary, we need to restrict to the period 2012 - 2015, as the more detailed CBF financial records for OSU employees only begin in 2012. The issue can be best illustrated by the following two graphs:

OSU VP total bonus compensation by rank: 2012 - 2015

Data Source: Columbus Business First

OSU VP average bonus compensation by rank: 2012 - 2015

Data Source: Columbus Business First

One clearly sees that the most rapid growth of average bonus awarded occurs in the Senior Vice Presidential subcategory. Justifications for such large bonuses are never given, and it is not clear that legitimate reasons for them even exist. During times when academic units within the university (in particular, the Arts and Sciences College) are experiencing serious and chronic budget shortfalls due to under-funding, it is not at all obvious that awarding such financial over-compensation to the highest paid administrators is the best use of Ohio taxpayer dollars.

[Reference: There is much additional useful and interesting information that one can extract from the raw salary data which we have briefly summarized above. The 9 spreadsheets containing all OSU VP salary and compensation, compiled from information available on the CBF website, can be downloaded here.]

8. AAU member world rankings 2004 - 2017

The fundamental problem associated with spending enormous amounts of money on bureaucratic infrastructure, year after year, is that can put substantial strain on a university's ability to attract world-class faculty and fund its core academic missions. Degradation of academic standing will not happen immediately, if the university in question had been in reasonable academic health. But common sense dictates that chronic underfunding of central academic units at any institution will, over time, result in diminished academic standing and reputation. And this is not merely an "academic" matter, as universities wishing to compete on the international stage need to be able to attract talented, highly-qualified students, who pay close attention to these types of rankings.

The are a number of different sources that provide rankings of universities, both nationally and internationally. However, perhaps the most respected is the Academic Ranking of World Universities published each year by the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. Their rankings officially began in 2003, but it seems they did not finalize their metrics until the following year. Thus the most reliable data begins in 2004. In their system, the top 100 universities are given an individual ranking number, while those beyond are grouped into categories (e.g., 101 - 150). And if a university's rank exceeds 500, no number is given.


ARWU rankings of AAU members: 2004 - 2016

Data Source: Shanghai Ranking Consultancy

There are a number of observations one can make regarding this table (again, these are world rankings, not national, so intermediate institutions not belonging to the AAU are not listed).

1. The rankings of top institutions (roughly top 20) experience very little variation from year to year. 

2. As ranking decreases, it becomes less stable.

3. When a univeristy's ranking falls below the 100-mark (exceeds 100), it rarely recovers.

4. Downward trajectories are hard to reverse.

A good illustration of point 3 is the Univ. of Virginia, which briefly ranked in the 2-digit range from 2007 - 2009, before beginning a 7-year downward trajectory. And the most dismal showing is that of Tulane, whose rankings have declined on a continuous basis for all 13 years to the point where it is no longer ranked internationally by ARWU.

And what about OSU? Here the picture is mixed. In terms of its ranking within the AAU system, it has been holding steady until the most recent year, when it dropped from 40th to 42nd place (out of 59), its worst relative AAU ranking since ARWU began in 2003. But the world ranking provides a more sensitive measure.

The real question: does there seem to be any correlation between i) numbers and outlays for EAM staffing, ii) numbers and outlays for regular faculty, and iii) ARWU ranking, both at OSU and elsewhere? And if so, what might the lag time be between them?

Although the picture is unclear, there are some troubling patterns. On the one hand, in some cases there does seem to be a roughly inverse correlation between i) and iii) with a lag time of about 2 - 3 years, and (not surprisingly) a direct correlation between ii) and iii), both at OSU and at some other AAU institutions of similar rank. On the other hand, it is not across the board; in particular, universities in the top 20 - 30 have (for the most part) maintained their position even in the face of significant budget cuts and administrative growth.

But returning to OSU, in terms of rankings we see i) a slow but continuous improvement from 2004 - 2010, followed by ii) a slow but continuous decline from 2010 through 2016. Referring back to Table 1 in Section 3, we saw i) EAM staffing decreasing from 2003 to 2007, followed by ii) a massive increase from 2007 - 2013, combined with iii) a modest decrease in tenured and tenure-track faculty starting in 2010.

A similar cause-and-effect may apply to other institutions. Rutgers's ranking dropped 32 places in one year, from 2015 to 2016; Table 1 indicates its a jump in its EAM staffing three years prior, when it went from 183 in 2011  to 405 in 2013 (still just little more than 1/10th of OSU's 2013 EAM total). On the other hand, Penn State Univ. also recently experienced a substantial decline in ranking - from 60th in 2015 to 77th in 2016, and yet their EAM numbers only grew slightly in the 2011 - 2013 span, with their FTT-TTF numbers gradually increasing over the last 3 years (after dipping slightly in 2013). So here the decline in ranking is most likely due to other factors that have not been considered here.

And for universities that have consistently ranked well above OSU, large fluctuations in EAM staffing seems to have little effect. A good example is Johns Hopkins. As we saw in Table 1, its EAM population climbed from 149 in 2003, to 1501 in 2007, then back down to 133 in 2013. And yet is ranking did not seem to be terribly affected by this large swing - possibly an indication of underlying academic health and resiliency, which allowed the university to weather the bureaucratic tidal wave that swept over it during that time. In fact, its steady improvement - from 20th in 2008 to 16th in 2016 - could be related to its drastic reduction in EAM staffing during that same period.

All said, there are certainly many factors that affect academic rankings, and there is no one set of metrics that provides a perfect indicator of academic health and vitality. Nevertheless, it is obvious that during a period of decreased state funding and tuition freezes, massive spending on bureaucratic undertakings with little or no real academic value - necessarily at the expense of faculty staffing and the funding of core college educational units - can only hinder that institutions' efforts to establish itself as a top research and educational institution. And OSU is no exception to that rule.

9. Conclusion

Stepping back to view the assembled data and analysis in toto, a certain chronology suggests itself. Prior to 2007-2008, OSU seems to have been on a somewhat stable track, academically. EAM numbers and outlays, as well as staffing by regular faculty, were in line with those of other AAU institutions (although, as we have mentioned, relative health in this respect should not be conflated with actual well-being).

In 2007, Gordon Gee returned to the position of President of OSU. Shortly thereafter, a near financial collapse nationwide resulted in a severe recession. In combination with the continuously decreasing amount of state support, the ensuing increase in financial pressure seems to have coincided with a decision by Gee and also, presumably, the Board of Trustees (B.O.T.) to reprioritize their funding more towards management and administration, including an expansion of administrative units and positions associated with fund-raising and investments. This rapid expansion in EAM staffing - a more than four-fold increase during his tenure - together with the enormous compensations awarded to both him and the upper-level administration (ostensibly needed to attract the "best and brightest" bureaucrats to work under him) managed to garner the attention of a number of authors and researchers concerned with the burgeoning bureaucracies and increasingly generous compensation packages being offered to the EAM class at universities nationwide. By 2013 - the year of Gee's departure - this relentlessly bad press had certainly gotten the attention of OSU's B.O.T., who initiated a modest effort to reign in administrative costs and reduce numbers (as suggested by the graphs of VP total numbers and compensation appearing in Section 7). By 2014 these costs had nearly leveled off, though not decreased in any meaningful way. That same year, OSU's incoming President - Dr. Michael Drake - made cost-cutting and saving a stated priority of his administration. In February of 2015, during a high-level university committee meeting, he announced an administrative  hiring freeze (which is currently in effect). He also announced OSU's commitment to an affordable education for all undergraduates; certainly a commendable goal.

However, the cost-cutting measures initiated by President Drake do not seem to have included any official plan for reducing the universities' executive excess and bureaucratic bloat, which (as we have amply demonstrated) really does afflict OSU to a much larger degree than almost any other AAU institution, and which diverts many tens of millions of dollars each year into a managerial machine that produces output of little academic value.

Moreover, the budgetary distress experienced by the core academic units of the university remain inadequately addressed. But these core units (including the Arts and Sciences College) are named so for a reason - they are the sine qua non of the university. Without properly addressing this last issue, faculty morale will continue to deteriorate, research will falter, and OSU's standing on the international stage will erode even further. These trends can only be reversed if OSU's leadership substantively addresses a core problem - the overgrowth and over-compensation of its EAM staff - and returns the colleges on whom the success of OSU's academic missions rest to a sound financial footing. Such action is long overdue.

10. References and links

For the sake of convenience, we include here the direct URLs linked in the "References" appearing at the end of some sections, as well as links to additional material relevant to the above presentation, but not cited directly.

Section 2.          URL:

                            Contents: .pdf copy of Curtis-Thornton article "Losing Focus"

Section 3.    i)    URL:

                            Contents: All spreadsheets used in constructing the graphs and table in this section. 

                            Compiled from HEDC data for 59 AAU institutions, 2003 - 2013 (see ii) following).

                      ii)   URL:

                            Contents: 59*3 = 177 .pdf downloads from HEDC database for 59 AAU institutions 2003 - 2013 with 

                            i) EAM staffing and average salaries, ii) instructional staffing, and iii) enrollment data.

Section 4.          URL:

                            Contents: Master spreadsheet with all NCES data used in this section.

Section 5.          URL:

                            The FaST website, with complete results and links for both surveys.

Section 6.          URL:

                            Contents: 2016 University Senate FCBC Report.

Section 7.          URL:

                            Contents: Spreadsheets for all OSU VP's, 2007 - 2015, compiled from the CBF online database.

Section 8.          URL:

                            Contents: Spreadsheet compiled from Shanghai Ranking Consultancy website with 

                            world rankings of 59 AAU members, 2004 - 2016.

Addenda.           URL:

                            Contents: Additional articles of relevance to above discussion.

Additional relevant articles

1. Ohio State hoping you get what you pay for as executive pay jumps

[Columbus Business First article of 2/25/2011 by Carrie Ghose. It includes an interview with then-President Gordon Gee in which he attempts to justify the substantial increase of OSU's bureaucracy and their compensation - by then well underway]

2. A Divided Front: What lies in the void between Ohio State's administrators and teachers?

[Lantern article of 5/2/2016 by A. Etchison and E. Weitz. it touches on some of the same themes covered both in this study as well as the University Senate's 2016 FCBC Report]