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Higher education employees feel ‘trapped in a dead-end job,’ survey shows

CAMPUS REFORM   |  January 10, 2023 by Emily Fowler

Higher education professionals are reporting feeling overworked and underpaid with no opportunities for advancement as colleges and universities “staff up.”  

In a recent open-ended survey of over 150 “college workers,” respondents expressed “frustration at the lack of clear career ladders, bitterness at being passed over for jobs, and bewilderment at seeing those on the outside, often with less education, finding more financial success,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education

“At my institution there have been long-timers in leadership positions who have no intention of retiring anytime soon, which means there is no way for any midcareer professionals to move up,” an anonymous respondent said. “It gets worse when we staff up: We are bringing even more people into the organization without giving them anywhere to go.” 

Several respondents suggested problems with hiring, pay, and bureaucracy in university administrations when asked whether they “felt trapped in a dead-end job” by The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

One respondent wrote, “I can’t even spend the money my office was allocated (because I’m a temporary administrator).”

“It’s a [d]umpster fire. And there’s no evidence the administration is going to do anything to fix it,” the respondent continued. 

“Academic department heads and deans are often identified through national searches, while administrative deans/directors and department heads are often pursued with a ‘who can we get for the least money that will do the most work’ mind-set,” another respondent said. 

The suggested tension between faculty and administrative positions reflects a trend in the way that colleges and universities are choosing to budget. 

A 2021 report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) analyzing 1,529 institutions found that spending on administrative positions outpaces instructional spending. 

ACTA is a non-profit “dedicated to promoting academic excellence, academic freedom, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities,” according to its website

“Non-instructional spending–including student services (29%) and administration (19%)–grew faster than instructional spending (17%),” the report reads. “From 2012 (the earliest year for which comparable staffing data are available) to 2018, colleges and universities prioritized hiring less expensive and often less-credentialed instructional staff and more expensive administrative staff.”

ACTA reported that when spending increases, tuition increases. 

Increased spending on administrators, an article in The Daily Signal argues, “corrupts the core mission of higher education.”

“Universities are no longer focused on free academic inquiry in pursuit of the truth or the development of capable adults,” Jay Greene, a senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation, wrote. “Instead, they have employed an army of staff who either distract from that mission by providing therapeutic coddling to students or subvert truth-seeking by enforcing an ideological orthodoxy.”

Campus Reform similarly reported on the consequences of hiring practices that favor administrators over instructors. 

Students at The New School, a private university in New York City, demanded tuition refunds after a strike from adjunct faculty, who make up around 87 percent of faculty, according to The Washington Post

They also demanded “A” grades for the semester, better cafeteria food, control of the president’s house, and the resignation of the president and other administrators. 

Campus Reform Higher Education Fellow Nicholas Giordano blamed The New School’s administrators for the students’ demands. 

“Demands like this–it simply reflects a growing trend of what we’ve been witnessing where they think if they complain loud enough, the system will capitulate,” Giordano said in an interview with Real America’s Voice

Giordano argued that this capitulation gives companies the impression that “students aren’t really being educated.” 

He also referenced another Campus Reform report on New York University (NYU) firing an organic chemistry professor because his class was “too hard.”

Campus Reform shared the response of another NYU professor, who tweeted, “One of many problems with insanely expensive private education is that institutions have an incentive to treat the student as [a] customer and not [as a] student who needs to learn certain things.”

This article originally appeared in Campus Reform on January 10, 2023.


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