October 10, 2007

A Growing Administrative Staff Links to University Budget Increase

Print More

Paralleling a 4.5 percent increase in Cornell’s budget allocation for administrative purposes over the last 10 years is the creation of a number of completely new administrative positions. With an eye towards connecting isolated facets of the University, Provost Biddy Martin and other top administrators have tried to centralize the administration by adding new members.
The deputy provost, director of the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future and assistant dean for graduate student life, all the first appointments of their kind, have began their positions in the last few months. Since the end of 2003, the vice provost for social sciences, vice provost for international relations and associate provost for outreach positions were created. Furthermore, the amount of people who report directly to Martin has tripled in the last nine years, according to Prof. Ron Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations.
“Cornell is relatively decentralized and that decentralization for the most part is a good thing,” said Martin. “But there is a whole set of areas where we fail to take advantage of our strengths because we are so decentralized. The addition of these positions from my point of view has one major purpose and that is to coordinate across traditional divisions.”
Frank DiSalvo, director of the newly created Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future, for example, has a goal of creating netaworks across the University for the purpose of exploring issues of sustainability. Focusing on three broad issues — energy, environment and economic development — DiSalvo, hopes to create connections that might not ordinarily form where faculty can get together and get funding for common research.
“It is really an umbrella center to help bring together a myriad of activities at Cornell,” DiSalvo said. “We want to seek synergies and alliances and seed new programs.”
David Harris, the new deputy provost, has taken over some of the roles of provost in order to allow Martin to work on larger issues such as the new capital campaign and rebuilding the University’s faculty. Harris is currently working to bring together different facets of the life sciences at Cornell as well as on issues of diversity and admissions.
The question he is looking at is, “how do you bring units of different departments together across colleges?” said Harris. “Take, for example, economics. It is not the case that there is no intellectual overlap. That means that if we are going to use our resources more efficiently, we must take the overlap into consideration.”
While the administration’s allocated budget over the last 10 years has been raised, the amount set aside for financial aid, academic programs and the physical infrastructure has decreased 4.5 percent collectively, according to Cornell’s annual budget plan. This raises questions as to whether the administration’s allocation, which pays for some of these new positions as well as a number of services like health and safety and information technology, comes at the expense of other resources like financial aid and academics.
“The issue of, are we spending too much on administration and not enough on faculty is something faculty is always concerned about,” said Ehrenberg. “Faculty members may complain but, on the other hand, the faculty who benefit from what they are doing would not complain.”
According to Ehrenberg, Cornell could do more to provide financial aid. “The wealthiest competitors [to Cornell] have improved their aid packages substantially,” Ehrenberg said. “My personal perception is that we should be devoting more resources to financial aid, but I’m not the president or the provost in that they have to make all of these balances.”
The inability of Cornell to provide the same level of financial aid to students as at universities like Princeton, Harvard and Yale, comes from its smaller endowment, according to Ehrenberg.
“There is nothing but a set of tradeoffs,” Martin said. “Every penny we spend on administration raises a question in our minds about what we might be able to do less of as a consequence of doing more of that … [But] is there is a direct trade off between funds for administrative needs on the one hand and financial aid on the other? No, not in so simple a way.”
Though Cornell has a relatively small endowment, Ehrenberg thinks that what the University has accomplished in terms of research and quality of education is amazing. Certain administrative costs are necessary in an institution of Cornell’s strength and magnitude, he added.
Administrative cost “includes all of the support functions that you have in running a small city, because we really are a small city,” said Carolyn Ainslee, director of budget and planning. “So it’s going to include transportation, police, health and safety, human resources, the council’s office [among others].”
According to Ehrenberg, the rising number of administrators and increasing allocated administrative cost is normal among universities.
“All these institutions face the same pressures,” said Ehrenberg.
With the “Far Above” capital campaign underway, the University hopes to raise $4 billion to go towards a variety of causes, including building physical infrastructure, strengthening the life sciences programs and giving financial aid. A number of these new administrators have been hired to help obtain further funding, which will funnel back into the University and help it continue to grow.