GW to scrutizinize size, cost of administration in rare review

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Provost Steven Lerman, left, and Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa, right, have each contributed to the growing number of administrators in offices across the University. The University will weigh the consequences of bulked up leadership in a formal review this fall.

Updated: May 14, 2013 at 9:15 p.m.

The University will take a microscope to the size of its administration this fall after faculty leaders called for a review of the increasing number of staff management positions.

With GW adding top leaders to its payroll – bringing on vice presidents and bulking up the provost’s and deans’ offices – the review will focus on the consequences of that possible administrative bloat.

Experts, including those at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, have tied the swelling number of administrative positions across higher education to rising tuition costs. The increase often elicits cries of bureaucracy, though universities say they are just keeping up with federal regulations and student demands.

Provost Steven Lerman said in an interview last month that the University’s newly hired vice provost for budget and finance will look at which offices have grown the most and why.

“Bigger or smaller can only be asked in the context: to what end? So I have no opinion on whether it’s too big or too small, I just want to make sure it’s the right allocation of resources as compared to doing something else with the money,” Lerman said.

He added that the review was “just to make sure that we’re checking in on ourselves and just to make sure that we’re using our resources effectively.”

Universities nationwide have increased administrative positions as the federal government has established more regulations. The trend has seen more pushback at public universities, where the use of tax dollars has been questioned when put toward administrators’ hefty salaries.

Paul Swiercz, a business professor and member of the Faculty Senate, called for the review, after the provost briefed the faculty body on professors’ salaries earlier this year.

“There seems to be, over the past couple of years, a steady growth in the number of top-level administrators at this University, and at a time of tight budgets, it’d be nice to know what proportion the budget is going to to increase numbers of top-level administrators, as opposed to faculty,” Swiercz said at a meeting last month.

At private universities like GW, human resources lists and detailed payroll information are typically kept under lock and key. The University’s public financial reports and tax filings do not disclose specific management payrolls, though GW must report the salaries of its top leaders, like the $1.166 million University President Steven Knapp received in compensation and benefits for fiscal year 2010.

Donald Lehman, the University’s former vice president for academic affairs, said he could not remember this kind of review taking place during his time at GW, which started four decades ago.

University President Steven Knapp said his cabinet of vice presidents has remained stagnant in numbers, despite added positions like a vice president for research, China relations and human resources.

He added in an interview Tuesday that administrative shifts like combining the University’s student life, admissions and academic arms, as well as the reorganization of the former medical center, streamlined operations rather than bogging them down.

“There are changes that are being made, and what that’s going to net out as I can’t tell you at this point, but it’s worth being careful about because one of our main goals here is to reduce overall the ratio of administrative expenses to academic expenses,” he said, pointing to initiatives like the Innovation Task Force, which looks to save money or produce revenue for research and academic operations.

Rapid bureaucratic growth at universities is part of the reason tuition costs have grown faster than health care costs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The University has one employee for every three-and-a-half students, according to data from GW’s office of Institutional research.

The provost’s office has expanded this year by creating new vice provost positions, including a budget vice provost position and a vice provost’s position for online education and academic innovation, which was filled by former GW Law School dean Paul Berman.

This year, the University added at least five vice or assistant provost positions, one vice presidential position and one senior associate dean position. The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences could also add two vice deans, one for the sciences and one for the humanities.

Since 2011, the University has also added four other vice presidential positions, including leaders for research and human resources.

Most recently, Doug Guthrie was appointed the vice president for China operations. Guthrie also serves as the dean of the GW School of Business and is an expert in the country that is home to about 40 percent of GW’s international student population.

Economics professor Donald Parsons said Guthrie’s appointment to the vice presidential role sparked discussion about the administrative increase. He said some levels of the University, such as counseling, are “terribly starved,” but that many of the higher administrative positions are considered important at GW and other universities.

“We worry about lots of things that we didn’t before. It may or may not do anything to actually have these people there, but you have to act like you’re doing it,” he said.

Some administrative positions that have been created are additional positions in the counseling and career services offices, which Lerman said he supported. Research positions have also increased as the University becomes more research-minded and the federal government has set forth more regulations.

Lehman, who retired in 2010, praised the provost for conducting the review, calling it long overdue and a positive move by the University.

“The burden that has been placed on universities is enormous. As a consequence, I don’t see how administrations can remain static,” Lehman said. “They’re going to have to grow at some level to be able to accommodate the requirements of the federal government.”

Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

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