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:

Screen Shot 2020-02-02 at 8.26.33 AM
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.