An excellent letter, signed by a number of professors, points to some of the key issues: mismanagement, bloated administration, and focus on superficial (but expensive) public relations instead of substantive educational investment:
The problem of low enrollment and the need for budget cuts stems not from bad luck or unfortunate circumstances, but rather from mismanaged budgetary calculations. In the interest of maintaining a quality curriculum that can attract students, the UM administration must assume responsibility for its poor decisions and balance the university budget by cutting its own administrative expenditures.
This effort can begin in several ways: UM should impose an immediate freeze on all bureaucratic searches, hires and salary increases. It should also cut all expensive and frivolous travel, receptions, as well as unnecessary administrative positions.
Back in December, the Wall Street Journal explored the explosive growth of administrative costs at universities while students are increasingly bearing the burden of tuition and fee increases:
Across U.S. higher education, nonclassroom costs have ballooned, administrative payrolls being a prime example. The number of employees hired by colleges and universities to manage or administer people, programs and regulations increased 50% faster than the number of instructors between 2001 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Education says. It’s part of the reason that tuition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has risen even faster than health-care costs.
The University of Montana’s budget doesn’t list an explicit category for administrative costs, but Instruction only accounts for 49% of the entire budget. A report by the admittedly conservative Goldwater Institute shows that the University of Montana has seen steady growth in the number of administrators per student, with a slight decline in the number of professors:
- 1993: 3.0 administrators per 100 students, 4.4 instructors per 100
- 2007: 5.2 administrators per 100 students, 4.3 instructors
The report further indicates that the percentage growth of administrative costs at the University of Montana was 72.8%, while the national average was 39.3%. At the same time, tuition increased by 66.7% and enrollment only increased 25%.
I am a firm believer in education and state support for our schools, but it’s rankling to say the least to learn that the University of Montana is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to rebrand itself and to hire a director of integrated communications for a salary of $147,000 at the same time students and professors are being asked to cut back. Not frustrated enough by this new director? How about an Assistant Vice President of Marketing?
“This always has been a great University,” said Mario Schulzke, UM’s assistant vice president for marketing. “We just really needed a fresh storytelling platform to be able to communicate to the public all of the amazing things that are happening here on a daily basis.”
Schulzke was hired in January, along with Vice President for Integrated Communications Peggy Kuhr, to help the University refocus all of its outreach efforts.
Nearly a year and a half ago, UM hired outside consulting firm Mind Over Media to conduct qualitative and quantitative research and deliver brand recommendations. The final brand work was finished in-house and under budget this year.
I’d argue that a university cutting classes and firing professors has better ways to spend its money than on marketing tricks and bureaucrats, especially when all of those communications and public relations experts couldn’t even explain to the UM community where the cuts would fall in a timely fashion.
Note: The Montana Board of Regents issued a response to the Wall Street Journal piece, arguing the Montana University system was below the national average when it comes to administrative cost increases. It’d be interesting to see why their data diverges so much from the outside assessment.