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Top-heavy bureaucracy? Fortunately the UI has effectively avoided that pitfall

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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For the sake of the economy and for the welfare of generations to come in this state, it is imperative we improve the quality of public higher education. This is no simple task. In University of Iowa Provost Wallace Loh’s words, “There is no formula.”

But here’s a start: Focus on hiring high-quality faculty rather than adding to the upper-level administration.

The UI has one of the leanest top offices in the Big Ten. Last fall — the most recent data available — university faculty outnumbered administrators 2,276 to 264. And some of the other Big Ten universities with higher administrator ratios are looking to cut back. Between the fall 2007 and the fall 2008, the percentage of UI administrators, executives, and managerial staff decreased from 2.07 to 1.87. The rates of the University of Wisconsin, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, the Ohio State University, and the University of Indiana all increased.

“We are in a situation where we have a good balance,” Faculty Senate President David Drake told the Editorial Board. “I think there are some places where there could be additional associate-level people that would be helpful, but that’s not going to happen because this administration is committed to keeping things as lean as possible.”

At the same time, the institution’s veteran faculty is being depleted. And university officials expect more faculty drop-off.

“I think all faculty here are concerned about it,” Drake said. “The provost has presented in the past that the president has a desire to hire more faculty … and that is going to be pursued.”

The economic recession could be an ostensibly serendipitous opportunity to do just that.

Facing a seemingly unmanageable budget, Loh and top-ranking officials around the country have faced massive budget cuts and struggled to maintain standards.

“In times of austerity, a university becomes stronger primarily by substitutive growth — it adds personnel, programs, and funding into some areas by diverting resources from other areas,” Loh wrote the Editorial Board in an e-mail. “It’s not necessarily a case of ‘doing more with less.’ The strategy is to work smarter, not just work harder.”

And a smarter way could be to emphasize attracting adroit professors rather than financially cumbersome administrators. As we look to rebuild a struggling economy, education needs to be the priority.

That starts in the classroom. As a top public university, our goal should be hiring high-level professors. Access to a college degree is imperative to keeping up in a constantly developing global community, and professors at the cutting edge of their field facilitate a learning haven.

While administrators play an important role in universities, professors have the most effect on students’ learning. Universities must recognize that basic fact if they want to succeed in educating students.

And financially, administrators’ salaries cost the university much more than those of the faculty members. According to the state Board of Regents’ Comprehensive Human Resources Report, the average estimated salary of a UI faculty member for 2009-10 is $97,400, the same as last year’s average. The average salary of the UI’s and UIHC’s top 275 administrators is $150,661, according to UI spokesman Tom Moore.

As the UI has grown, it has been forced to stay competitive by adding such departments as the Office of Sustainability or hiring professional academic advisers. Resources such as these are invaluable to students and should be recognized as such.

While we were opposed to the UI’s hiring of a new public-relations administrator, the university has generally done a good job of striking the right balance between administration and faculty. As Loh pointed out, in financially rough times, it is important to stay efficient. We agree, and we hope the decisions in the future demonstrate that mindset. Professors cost the UI less than administrators, and they contribute more to the individual success of each student. This is where our money should be spent.

As we move forward as a university, the students’ interests must be the priority. Hiring high-level faculty for research and instruction is the best choice in terms of improving the university. We appreciate the amount of work this thin administration handles, and we hope to see this pattern continue.


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