Administrative Bloat is Worse than the James G. Martin Center Realizes

According to a May, 2019 report by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, the right-leaning nonprofit institute with a mission of improving higher education in our state, more and more of North Carolinians’ tax dollars are going to pay administrators on the UNC System campuses, not faculty.  Appalachian State is one of the campuses examined in the Center’s report, along with NC State, UNC-C, ECU, and Chapel Hill.  As the report shows, when we talk about high earning employees on campus, we’re not talking about professors.  Only one of the ten people earning over $200,000 at Appalachian is a professor:

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Martin Center staff writer Anthony Hennen points out in their report that “. . . the occasional media characterization of professors as highly paid with strong job security isn’t necessarily an accurate picture of who gets the biggest paycheck on campus. Instead, it’s the university workers outside the classroom who draw them.”  However, there’s something even worse going on at Appalachian State that escaped the report’s notice.

It’s not just the increase in the number of administrators or their high salaries compared to the faculty.  It’s that our top administrators are in many instances paying administrators well above market rates while paying the faculty on the same campus below market rate.   And the UNC Board of Governors approves this.  All the while, the administration tells the faculty that there is just no money to keep our salaries at market rate and that we’ll need to increase enrollment, change the funding model, and get more money from the state in order to pay the faculty adequately (that is, in line with peer institutions).  As Hennen states, “administrators decide where budget cuts are made and can protect the budget for administrative staff at the expense of faculty positions.”  And of course, if the faculty are not paid competitive salaries, the status of our institution sinks.

For over a year now, the faculty at Appalachian has been communicating with the administration about the faculty salary crisis.  It was prompted by the shock that, despite terrible decline in faculty compensation, and despite the UNC Board of Governors sending a memorandum on August 6, 2018 giving all campuses the discretion to award us merit raises of up to 4.99% of current base salary for the 2018-19 year, Appalachian’s administration gave us zero.  Sadly, the Board of Governors seemed fine with this decision, oblivious to how low faculty salaries at this institution have gotten, especially when compared to administrator and EHRA non-faculty staff salaries.  They even gave the Chancellor a raise.

Faculty members attended multiple meetings and forums in 2019 to share their distress and their ideas for how to turn this situation around.  By the end of last semester, after multiple claims that “we can’t move money” and other excuses for inaction, the faculty finally got a promise of a 4.99% merit raise pool for the 2019-20 year, even if the state did not increase its allocation.  While this raise would not even make up for cost of living increases during the period over which the faculty suffered salary decline, it was a step in the right direction.

And yet, thus far, no raise process has been initiated.  Faculty morale continues to drop.  This is especially the case when we read about the new football coach’s salary, the Athletic Director’s enormous raise to a base salary of $450,000 as of Jan., 2020, which includes a guaranteed 4.5% increase annually, the $2.5million that the University will spend to regrade Miller Hill, a grassy hill upon which football fans sit to watch the games (regrading the hill will enhance the fan and athlete experience and make the stadium sound louder, according to the Athletic Director), and the extra $5million that the University got approved to spend on the football stadium end zone project (this is an extra $5million because they went over budget–making it a spend zone).

We have full-time non-tenure-track faculty on Appalachian’s campus whose livelihoods would be improved if their salaries could be raised to $50,000 with a guaranteed annual raise of 4.5%.  Plenty of tenured professors, who invested years doing post-secondary training and then years proving themselves qualified and competitive enough to make tenure, would just like to earn what their peers at similar universities are earning.  Many would like to see $2.5 million spent to improve our science labs, our libraries, and help send students to study abroad.  That seems more important than moving the dirt that football fans sit on for seven games a season.

Administrative bloat is not just a national trend or necessity, it is a choice our administration and our Board of Governors have been making.  Why aren’t more students, administrators, taxpayers, governing board members, and higher ed institutes looking more carefully at the spending choices being made?  What has made so many people so blind to the skewed priorities on the campus?  Perhaps they’re fans of football or don’t realize that athletics sticks students and taxpayers with the bill.  Perhaps they haven’t looked at the numbers or don’t understand data.  Perhaps they personally benefit from above-average administrator salaries.  Perhaps the administrators are earning every dollar; perhaps they are even the best administrators in the nation.  Thing is, great administrators know how to manage their budgets so as to attract and retain top faculty because they know that without high calibre faculty their university sinks.  The administration proclaims that we are the premier undergraduate institution in the state.  This cannot be achieved or sustained by starving the faculty and academic facilities.

This blog is run the Appalachian State University AAUP Chapter.  The opinions published herein do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the AAUP organization or any given individual member of AAUP.

 

ADMINISTRATION’S RESPONSE TO CERPA REPORT OBSCURES THE FACTS  

In response to a request made by the Faculty Senate Budget Committee in early 2019, Appalachian’s Center for Research and Policy Analysis (CERPA) conducted an analysis of the University’s budget allocations, using raw data the Appalachian administration shared. It is a serious data-driven report that provides important insights for the faculty, administration, and Board of Trustees.  

The administration presented a response to the CERPA report to the Faculty Senate on April 29, 2019. Unfortunately, rather than spending time addressing the problems and finding solutions, the administration created a presentation that manipulated the data to confuse the facts. 

The administration never denied the accuracy of the findings or analysis in the CERPA report; rather, they sought to spin the numbers another way.  However, it was not so easy to fool the Faculty Senate. Senators quickly noticed the obfuscation and exposed it in the Q&A.

There is no denying the basic fact that over the past five years, the administration has shifted a significant amount of funding from academics to administration and support activities. A Senator pointed out that hidden in the administration’s own presentation, the numbers showed that the amount of money shifted away from academics exceeds $2.5 million. Yes, you read that correctly: if this administration had funded academics at the same rate as five years ago, there would have been $2.5 million more going to academics. If those funds were directed to faculty salaries, it would be enough money to correct 66% of the faculty salary deficit!  

It’s clear that campus budget decisions can address the faculty salary deficit. It’s time to take a good hard look at institutional priorities. We’re all in this together, and we all want this institution to thrive. Faculty have pointed out the problem. We are waiting for the administration to show leadership on finding a campus-based plan to address the faculty salary crisis.

Here’s a closer look at specific examples of attempts to obscure the facts.

MANIPULATING THE VISUALS TO HIDE THE FACTS: CONFUSING ABSOLUTE AND RELATIVE NUMBERS

The administration’s presentation obscured the relative changes in funding priorities by reporting the absolute numbers. This is a well-known trick used to camouflage incremental changes by skewing the numbers and charts with large absolute numbers. Data literate people know that incremental decisions and relative changes are the relevant numbers when discussing changes in budget priorities and trends.  

Faculty Senators pointed out something hidden within the following administration’s slide. It shows that academics accounted for 70.7% of the general budget in FY2014, but since FY2014, academics only accounted for 62.5% of new funds. One senator pointed out that this decline in the share of funding going to academics meant more than a $2.5 million cut in academics!

Yes, if budget priorities remained the same as FY2014, academics would have $2.5 million more in funding. This amount would provide an average raise of nearly $3,000 for full-time faculty. A $3000 average raise would have made a difference! It would have recovered 66% of the lost purchasing power that faculty have experienced in the past 10 years.

Where did these funds go?  What took priority over faculty salaries and academics?  The administration’s slide tells us the answer. The following slide shows that the relative funding cuts to academics were redirected to expand the university’s bureaucracy. As the following slide from their presentation shows, in FY 2014, institutional support and student support accounted for 18.8% of the general budget (14.2% + 4.6%).  Since FY 2014, 27.0% of new funds (up from 18.8%) were allocated to institutional support and student support (19.9% + 7.1%).

The administration’s own analysis confirms the key finding from the CERPA report, that the administration has cut relative funding for academics to prioritize administrative and support activities.

Figure 1a (1)

Figure 2a

CHERRY PICKING DATA: EXCLUDING ATHLETICS FROM THE ANALYSIS

To skew the numbers in their favor, the administration selectively dropped relevant data, namely auxiliary budgets–which are the budgets for different campus services, such as athletics. In explaining the reason for dropping this data, they claimed that units in the auxiliary category are self-funded. This is not true. A major component of auxiliary operations is Athletics, and Athletics is not self-funded. The truth is that athletics has more than a $20 million annual operating deficit. You read that correctly. Athletics loses more than $20 million every year. The losses are covered by student fees and these fees are determined on campus by this administration (link to previous story).

The problem is that the student-funded subsidies to athletics directly cuts into funding for student support and indirectly cuts into funding for academics. As CERPA pointed out, student fees are limited to a 3% total increase each year, so choosing to increase athletics fees is a choice not to fund other needs. The point here is that athletics accounts for much of the growth in EHRA non-faculty positions, and the administration decided to expand these EHRA non-faculty positions instead of funding other things. So, this data directly shows the administration’s budget priorities and should be part of any analysis. Cherry picking data is an elementary trick to manipulate findings. We need action to solve the problem, not data manipulation to justify inaction. And yet, even after inappropriately dropping this inconvenient data, the new chart still shows that the numbers of EHRA non-faculty grew 33% faster than those of EHRA faculty!

Figure 3a

USING THE WRONG BENCHMARK: “BUT MOST OF THE MONEY STILL GOES TO ACADEMICS”

To calm faculty alarm about our salary crisis, the administration emphasized the level of the budgets by stating that “Academics continues to receive the highest percentage of the total budget.”  This is an empty statement that distracts from the key finding. Did you notice that this doesn’t point out that the proportion of the budget going to Academics is shrinking? It doesn’t speak to the problem that the administration is shrinking the share of the budget that goes to academics.

More disturbing, the statement implies that allocating more than 50% is the benchmark. As if it is all good if Academics receives more than 50% of the budget! If the administration actually holds this view, Appalachian is in a more dramatic tailspin than we previously thought.

Allocating more than 50% to Academics is not the benchmark for prioritizing academics! Given that academics is the mission of the university, it should receive much more than 50%. In FY2014, academics received 70.7% of the budget, but it has only received 62.5% of new funds since FY2014.

THROWING MUD AT THE WALL TO DISTRACT FROM THE FACTS: “SOME EHRA NON-FACULTY MAKE LESS THAN $50,000”

The administration presented a slide that appeared to question the assertion that “recent allocations of positions prioritize upper- and mid-level administration” by listing EHRA non-faculty positions with salaries under $50,000.  See their slide below.

Figure 4a

Of course, simply pointing out the existence of the positions earning less than $50,000 doesn’t change what the data tells us. Not surprising, their presentation did not point out the existence (and expansion) of the highly paid executive EHRA positions. Let’s look past this distraction. The revealing data is found by comparing the change in the number of positions of EHRA non-faculty and the change in the compensation for these positions.  Only using general fund data (to be fair), the data show that EHRA non-faculty positions increased 10% between 2014 and 2018. During this period, compensation for these positions in Institutional Support increased a whopping 36.5%!

This tells us that the growth in EHRA non-faculty positions is due to increases in the high-paid positions, specifically mid- and upper-level administration. The data show that the university is expanding the bureaucracy with highly paid positions while shrinking the funding for academics and faculty salaries (link to previous story).

 

The AAUP blog looks at campus issues related to the AAUP.  Blog posts do not necessarily represent the opinion of every member of the AAUP.

App State Athletics Loses Money, Sends Students the Bill

We’ve all heard that Appalachian football coach Scott Satterfield left his $700,000 salary for an even higher salary elsewhere.  Athletics at Appalachian is expensive, and it’s not paying for itself.  In fact, Appalachian administrators have just proposed to the Board of Trustees a hike in the student fee for athletics from $760 a year per full-time student to $783 per year.  And this doesn’t include another student fee for athletics facilities debt reduction, which takes the total yearly fee each student pays for athletics to over $1,000.  That athletics facilities fee, although reduced slightly for next year, has increased nearly 200% since 2011.

The typical Appalachian student likely does not even realize that s/he is paying over $750 this year just to subsidize athletics.  A student might prefer to keep that $750 each year so as to borrow less in student loans, cut back on work hours so as to sleep or study more, increase the thermostat on cold winter nights, travel abroad, buy a mountain bike, or get a new laptop.

Athletics at Appalachian State loses about $20 million per year, and they force students to cover this operating loss annually.  Student fees pay for over half of the Athletics Department’s operations—more than ticket sales and donations do.  The athletic fee is higher than any other fee students pay, including for educational technologies, textbook rentals, co-curricular programs, and healthcare.  Sound too crazy to be true?  Take a look at how the 2018-19 student fees get allocated.

In 2011, when the university announced that it would move the football program from FCS to join the Sun Belt, then Chancellor Ken Peacock promised the move would not be made on the backs of students.  Since that year, however, the student athletic fee continues to increase.  Students are bankrolling increases in coaches’ salaries, charter flights, athletes’ scholarships, and many services for athletes.

But wait, an expensive football program is the face of the University, increasing our visibility, you might hear.  That’s an awfully expensive PR campaign.  With the same money, Appalachian could build stellar academic programs, fund all students to study abroad, invest in infrastructure that reduces our operating costs, or give start-up funds to student entrepreneurs.  Davidson, William & Mary, George Mason, Columbia, and MIT have all managed to build terrific reputations without costly football programs.  Those institutions have told students and the public, through their actions, that academics take priority over tailgate parties.

Athletics is not part of the university’s mission, and yet athletics gets the support it requests—in the very same week that the faculty was told that the University could find no way to fund salary increases.

Appalachian State is prioritizing athletic entertainment over educational opportunities, over faculty salaries, and over other opportunities to support academics.  The Office of Research is understaffed.  Some instructors have converted closets as offices, some share offices, and some have no offices at all.  The rising cost of higher education is a major problem, but not, as some seem to presume, because the faculty have cushy jobs and fat paychecks.

819uy05D6iL._SL1500_Our University is taking money from starving students (and local studies of food insecurity show that some of our students really are going hungry), who are borrowing money in the form of student loans, and then spending that money to pay for alumni and fan entertainment.

The Board of Trustees should oppose Appalachian’s plans for this student fee hike for athletics, and advocate to reallocate student athletic fee money to academics.  We’re not advocating that athletics go away, just for athletics to operate without forced student subsidies.  The BoT should let students keep their money and encourage an increase in ticket prices to fund athletics instead.  Football fans and alumni can afford higher ticket prices, and if they can’t afford to pay more for their football game tickets, well then they can take a loan to pay for it.

As always,the Appalachian State AAUP chapter favors open debate and strongly encourages readers to offer their thoughts in the “comments” section below.

This blog is run the Appalachian State University AAUP Chapter.  The opinions published herein do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP or any given individual member of AAUP.