In 1956, the Rice University Office of the Registrar consisted of two people: the registrar and his assistant. There was a single staff member who wrote sports news, but no dedicated office for public relations.
The Registrar’s Office now lists 14 staff members on its website, including two “student records analysts” and a “transfer credit specialist.” Public relations are now handled by the Office of Public Affairs, which lists 35 staff members on its website.
Like many universities nationwide, Rice is subject to “administrative bloat,” a national trend in which the number of university administrators per student has increased greatly. Rice’s student to administrator ratio has steadily decreased in the last half century, indicating more and more administrators were hired per student, an analysis by the Thresher of student/faculty directories shows.
A 2010 study from the Goldwater Institute reported that from 1998 to 2007, American universities’ spending on administrative costs increased by 61 percent while spending on instruction increased by 39 percent.
According to the 2015-16 directory, Rice employs approximately 1,000 administrators, excluding library, Housing and Dining and custodial staff. At the time of publication, RICEWorks, Rice’s external job listing site, advertised 74 job openings for regular and temporary staff compared to just 25 faculty job openings.
National reports have found that two factors contributing to the growth of university bureaucracy are efforts to expand student programs and the increasing complexity of federal regulations.
In recent years, Rice has added many programs and administrative departments, including the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Student Success Initiatives, the Center for Civic Leadership and the Gibbs Recreational Center and its accompanying programs. In 2017, Rice will open the Moody Performing Arts Center.
According to Vice President for Finance Kathy Collins, it is often necessary to hire new directors when adding new programs rather than adding that program to an existing administrator’s workload.
“It’s important to have a person in charge to be the face of Rice when it comes to talking to the Rice community and the external community about that program,” she said.
As Rice increases in size, more staff are needed to handle the business operations as well. Departments of human resources, accounting, investments, alumni relations, development and public affairs have all been added to the university, and with them, more administrative staff.
Rice is further required to expand its offices due to federal regulations, which is also true nationally as a major cause for administrator increase. As both an employer and an educational institution, Rice is subject to regulations applying to both of those entities.
Vice President for Human Resources Mary Cronin pointed to compliance with the Affordable Care Act as a particular challenge. Due to new reporting requirements and other regulations, Rice had to hire more staff.
“If you get two or three Affordable Care Acts over the course of several years, you’re in a position to consider whether we as an employer can carry out the work we have to do in order to be in compliance with the laws and regulations and whether we need to hire another person or need to establish another office,” Cronin said.
Many universities hire Title IX compliance officers to help students and ensure the university will not be sued. Rice has increased its efforts to prevent sexual assault with additional programs such as the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Title IX Support.
“There are just hundreds of laws that apply to universities,” Collins said. “It’s an expanding workload of carrying out those responsibilities.”
Collins said Rice is different from many universities nationwide, which have moved away from the traditional faculty-administrator model and hired an increasing percentage of full-time administrative staff who never teach courses. In the 20th century, many schools, including Rice, followed a model in which faculty continued to teach even as they took on administrative roles. More than one third of Rice’s administrators were also professors in 1956.
According to Collins, many high-level Rice administrators still hold faculty positions: the dean of undergraduates, the vice provost for research, the dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies, the vice provost for academic affairs and the vice president for strategic initiatives all hold both the faculty appointment and the administrative appointment. Rice President David Leebron also co-taught a course at the Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance last year.
Despite the increased regulatory burden and an ever-expanding array of student programs, data indicates that Rice’s administration is becoming more efficient. From 2006 to 2016, the student to administrator ratio increased from 5.37-to-1 to 6.74-to-1, indicating that fewer administrators per student were needed to operate Rice even while Rice expanded the number of programs it offered.
Collins and Cronin attributed this improved efficiency to the integration of technology that increases productivity throughout administration. For example, systems for submitting and reviewing grant proposals are now fully online.
Ultimately, Collins noted, it is difficult to pinpoint what changes make a definitive impact.
“It’s not like any one thing says, ‘Oh, that saves a position,’” Collins said. “I think the cumulative effect of going after this on many fronts changes the workload.”
Student Association President Griffin Thomas said he has mixed opinions about Rice’s expanding administration.
“It is important to understand that higher education and Rice have fundamentally changed since the 1950s,” Thomas, a Lovett College senior, said.
He pointed out that the expectation is that Rice will offer much more than an education.
“Today, universities are expected to provide students with the physical, mental and social support that students need to take advantage of this [academic] experience,” Thomas said.“These extra services count greatly towards this administrative bloat, but are also critical to a balanced undergraduate experience.”
Drew Petty, founder of the Mechanical Engineering Advisory Board, said hiring faculty is more important than hiring administrative staff.
“Students want smaller classes, better professors and more research opportunities,” Petty, a Duncan College senior, said. “Resources spent on more administrators fails to effectively address student concerns and furthers the disconnect between students and administration.”
The new student programs which have been added in recent years reduce resources available for faculty, Petty said.
“I think new student programs seem exciting and appeal more to the upper administration at Rice,” Petty said. “However, the quality of teaching at Rice is suffering and this should be addressed first and foremost.”
Lovett senior Bridget Schilling said she was glad that an expanded administration could offer more to students, but still had some reservations.
“With the expansion of administration comes a lot more bureaucracy and hoops to jump through that don’t always make the resources they are supposed to provide accessible,” Schilling said.