Educational administrators, especially in colleges and universities, love to reorganize things. It gives them something to do and proves the value of their positions.
Reorganization efforts usually mean two things: longer titles and a need for more administrators.
With that in mind, it’s interesting to see an attempt to reduce the number of educational administrators on a university campus, at least at the top level. That’s one feature of a restructuring plan Dr. Joel Anderson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, will ask the UA Board of Trustees to consider during its November meeting.
Anderson announced his proposal last week in a couple of lengthy memos, accompanied by the organizational charts needed to visualize the plan.
Keep in mind that the UALR administration is just a secondary layer of the UA system organization. It’s one of six 4-year universities, and there are also five 2-year colleges under the same umbrella. Plus, the system has six other units, such as the Clinton School of Public Service and the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts.
Each campus has a chancellor and a network of vice chancellors, associate vice chancellors and even some assistant vice chancellors to administer various functions.
At the top level of the structure is the system administration, which is headed by a president. In the UA’s case it’s Dr. Donald Bobbitt, who became UA president in late 2011. Bobbitt’s annual salary of $355,000 is at least $35,000 higher than any of his chancellors, but it’s only a fraction of what the university pays its Razorback football and basketball coaches.
The UA system organization also includes a host of vice presidents, associate vice presidents and legal counsels (amazingly, 13 of those); the system website’s directory lists 43 in all.
Anyway, Anderson proposes to reduce the number of vice chancellors from seven to four. This became a possibility, he explained in his first memo, because three vice chancellors retired in June.
Apparently, that provoked some discussion about whether those vice chancellors had actually been necessary, and the conclusion was that the university can operate more successfully and more responsively by eliminating three high-level positions in a reorganization plan.
Of course, that would mean some longer titles and some new positions. The vice chancellor for academic programs and provost would become the executive vice chancellor for academic programs and provost. Provost, by the way, has become a popular title for the chief administrator for academic affairs, but the feeling seems to be that the longer, more explanatory title is still needed, too.
Since the Student Affairs Division would be folded into the Academic Affairs Division, there would be no need for a vice chancellor of student affairs. But the plan would create a new administrative position — vice provost for student life.
In fact, the provost would supervise six people called vice provost, associate provost or associate vice chancellor, as well as a bunch of deans and program directors.
There’s no indication in either of the memos that the reorganization will allow for the elimination of any administrative positions or save any money.
However, Anderson hinted in his first memo that funding may be a concern for UALR.
"Of specific concern, our enrollment growth has stalled and is down," he wrote. "As is true of other public institutions across the nation, the share of our budget funded by the state has been in steady decline. The share of our budget funded by student tuition and fees has been on a steady incline. Therefore, our ability to attract and retain students will determine UALR’s immediate and long-term future."
The reorganization, he said, is "intended in part to respond to public policy makers, donors, grantors, parents and students who want to hear about the university’s business model, our cost per student, our market share, our revenue streams, our performance metrics, our retention rates, our graduation rates and more."
One of the reasons public colleges and universities are having trouble attracting public funding is the perception that they already have plenty of money. That perception is not helped when one UA division can overspend its budget by $4 million over two years, and the deficit can easily be erased by transferring reserve funds from elsewhere.
On a more regular basis, though, colleges and universities expand their administrative staffs almost at will, paying salaries that few businesses can afford to low-level administrators. We see a vice president for university governmental affairs at the University of Central Arkansas hired at $100,000, more than we pay the governor. We see an assistant vice president for agricultural extension at UA making nearly $200,000, much more than most full professors.
The real growth in staffing at public colleges and universities, even those with steadily higher enrollments, tends to be in administration and support staff.
For example, the full-time instructional staff at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro grew from 459 in 2007 to 487 in 2012. But the total of professional nonfaculty staff grew from 366 to 480 during the same period. Executive administrative positions actually declined slightly, but technical and paraprofessional staffing climbed by 70 positions.
Reorganization can be useful if it includes a hard look at whether all administrative positions are necessary. Just changing titles doesn’t mean much.
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.