Stanford University Should Limit Expansion of its Administrative Staff

by Editorial Board on November 16, 2011

Stanford, and colleges in general, are entering a new era with new and growing needs. Faced with such needs, colleges need to shuffle their internal staff to ensure that campuses are constantly equipped with people who can cover a breadth of issues. Many schools, ours included,have risen to this challenge by increasing the size of their non-instructional staff.

At Stanford, the increase in non-teaching staff this year was 3.2%, as compared to the 0.3% rise in educators, according to the 2011-2012 budget. While it is understandable that more staff for a growing school with changing priorities is inevitable, the Editorial Board questions the extent to which the University is hiring new professionals to solve problems.

According to data provided by Vice Provost of Student Affairs (VPSA) Greg Boardman and reported in October by the Review, Student Affairs eliminated 10 staff positions and created 22 new positions this year for a net gain of 12 and a total of 257 staff members in the 2011 fiscal year. Fiscal year 2010 saw a large increase of 25 personnel due to hiring and the movement of the Student Services Center to the department. This is part of a national trend that economist Richard Vedder, the Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, calls “worrisome.”

It seems as though identifying institutional problems, and then addressing them by assigning an administrative professional working tirelessly just on one issue, has become the norm at Stanford. But this may not be the best solution. When contemplating how to take a more direct approach towards a certain need, the University should first ask itself whether the need can be met by an existing office.

Take, for example, the Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Prevention office (SARA), which received a new Assistant Dean at the beginning of this year. With worrying levels of sexual assault and relationship abuse on campus, this issue must be addressed. But how effective is it to bring in a new, dedicated professional, when this need could also be met by professionals inVaden Health Center, the university’s Department of Public Safety, and the police? Already conducting advocacy campaigns, these offices might be much more efficient in their ability to prevent sexual assault and relationship abuse.

The university needs to be astute with staff increases, ensuring that it really needs a new office or position before adding one. This year also brought a new head of Alcohol Policy and Education position. The rationale was to centralize alcohol enforcement and prevention policies. But this could have been done by centralizing the policies in one of the offices that already existed. In this case, it would be Vaden. In this way, the university would not need space for a new office, and the benefits of an economy of scale in Vaden could reduce total costs.

In April, Stanford also appointed a new assistant dean for the Diversity and First Generation Programs office. Again, we question whether or not the tasks assigned to this position could have been completed by existing administrative structure. It is true that diversity has always been high on the agenda for the university, and that Stanford has a large population of first-generation college students. While it is a great idea to have resources available to first-generation and lower-income students, again, this outlet could be set up elsewhere, such as the Financial Aid office, and it could save Stanford the need to hire (and pay) a professional whose sole purpose could be met by an existing entity.

The impulse to create new offices and fill new positions is reflective of the sentiment that if one pours in more money, problems will somehow disappear. Apart from the fact that a lot of the issues identified can be dealt with by existing offices and staff, we can take a step ahead and say that it can be done better by existing bodies. Having an establishment set up, with staff working on the same or very similar fields, inherently means that the transition to additional areas of focus is not very difficult. It also saves the University time, money, and space that can be employed elsewhere.

This brings us to the question of trade-offs: how else could Stanford be using the resources that are now being dedicated to these offices? For one thing, as mentioned earlier, the increase in non-instructional staff is disproportionately higher than the employment of new instructors. Professors, lecturers, and teaching assistants are always a welcomed increase for any university, especially to bolster departments that have had to recently make budget cuts. They help the faculty-student ratio, making the university more attractive to prospective students. They generate academic reputation, and also bring in funds through research.

Adding more instructors is a wise decision from both academic and business perspectives. However, if we keep adding non-instructional staff whose jobs could be done by people already on board, then these valuable teachers cannot be hired.

We firmly believe that the university should stop administrative excess and focus instead on better utilizing its existing resources. Creating more bureaucracy is never the best answer.

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