The California State University system’s office of the chancellor in Long Beach. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

By Peter C. Herman

A few years ago, I wrote an article about administrators growing like kudzu at the CSU, and how they were showered with stupendous raises while the faculty and staff got next to nothing. Now, the California State Auditor, Elaine M. Howle, just released a report on administrative bloat at the CSU, and it’s a doozy!

First, the CSU added administrators at twice the rate of faculty. Between 2007-15, the numbers of management personnel grew by 15 percent, but the faculty grew by only 7 percent. And it’s not only the numbers of administrators. To quote the report, “total compensation for management personnel grew faster than total compensation for other employee groups.” For the same period, executive pay went up by 24 percent; faculty pay by a measly 10 percent.

Let me give an example not covered by the audit. According the Sacramento Bee State Worker Salary Database, in 2011, the total compensation cost for the Chancellor’s Office (affectionately known as “the Chancellory”) was $49.9 million for 634 employees; by 2016, that number rose to $59.7 million for 732 employees. That’s ten million dollars more for about one hundred more administrators. Ten million dollars that does not go toward hiring more faculty or increasing graduation rates.

The CSU responds that it needs more administrators because of increased demands and obligations. No doubt some of that it true. But the report also reveals that when the auditors asked individual campuses to justify the numbers of administrators hired, they couldn’t do it. Cal State Los Angeles  increased its student services administrators by 10 (a “55 percent” increase), but when asked for some concrete evidence for why they need 10, as opposed to, say five more people, the auditors discovered that CSULA, and other campuses, do not require “a documented staffing analysis to support the hiring of new management personnel.” Consequently, the report continues, “CSU cannot adequately justify the significant increase in management personnel it has hired in the last nine years.”

Peter C. Herman

But it gets even worse, and of course, it has to do with athletics. The collective bargaining agreement classifies all coaches as faculty unless they supervise two or more full-time employees. This means that football coaches cannot command stratospheric salaries. So, Chuck Lang, the “associate director of business administration” at San Diego State University, decided on a simple, easy solution: in order for these coaches to “receive starting annual salaries of $150,000 each,” all the assistant football coaches would “be reclassified as management personnel and receive the same higher salary.” The fact that this move clearly defies the contract, and is probably flat out illegal, bothered one unidentified person: on the 2011 memo on the reclassification the auditors found “’why?’ with an underline below.” When the auditor asked the “assistant director of employment services” for further explanation,” she claimed that the assistant coaches are “program managers.” After examining the position descriptions, the auditors “did not find adequate support” for this claim. A fairy tale, in other words, invented to justify “inappropriately [granting] the three existing assistant coaches raises averaging 33 percent at a total annual cost of more than $111,000.”

Nor did anybody consider the implications of such a move. If coaches are managers, then football players are employees. Professionals, in other words, not amateur student athletes.

However, the most disturbing part of this report is the CSU’s evident refusal to accept any responsibility, or accountability, for administrative bloat. Or to pay any attention to the problems found in the report.

When the State Auditor reviewed the CSU’s response to the 2007 audit, she and her team “found that CSU fully implemented only one of our six prior recommendations.” Nor does it seem that the CSU will take this audit any more seriously. Despite the lack of documented justifications for hiring particular numbers of administrators, the CSU “believes that the current policy provides proper justification.” No problem, so no changes.

As for SDSU’s reclassification of coaches—again, no admission of fault. Instead of putting them back where they belong—faculty!—and possibly firing the person who came up with this illegal scheme, “The CSU has initiated discussion and meetings have been held with campuses and the relevant collective bargaining unit to implement changes required to accommodate classification and compensation needs for athletic coaches.” We broke the rules, and now that we’ve been caught, we’re going to retroactively change the rules.

As for the question of why the number of administrators rises while the number of faculty declines, Chancellor Timothy White declines to even acknowledge the issue. The problem is a serious one. At SDSU, between 2008-15, we lost 164 faculty members (8.8 percent, and this number includes recent hires). On the other hand, SDSU gained 46 administrators (17 percent increase). More administrators, fewer teachers. And what is the CSU’s response? Silence. Crickets.

As faculty, we are constantly held accountable. Peer review determines whether our scholarship gets published. Students evaluate our teaching every class, and anyone up for reappointment, tenure and promotion gets subjected to vigorous, some might say microscopic, examination. Requests to hire new faculty get equally deep scrutiny. But what’s good for faculty, it seems, does not apply to administration. Over and over again, the audit report says that the CSU’s responses “fall short” of addressing the problems found. The CSU it seems, considers itself beyond accountability.

This is not a good position to take when raising tuition.

Peter C. Herman is a professor of English Literature at San Diego State University. He works on Shakespeare, Milton, and the literature of terrorism.