is gordon gee responsible for the adjunct explosion?

Gordon Gee, former president of Ohio State, made more than $6 million in FY 2013, including the $1.5 million “release payment” he got in exchange for not letting the door hit him agreeing not to sue the university on his way out. Now the New York Times is reporting that the 25 public universities with the highest-paid presidents have greater increases in student debt and numbers of adjuncts than other publics.

I had a story for this, an organizational story. Ah, I thought. The NYT is implying that the high pay is taking away money that would be going to the other stuff. But really, this just reflects a new model for flagship publics: limit faculty costs (hence the adjuncts), increase the proportion of out-of-state students paying high tuition (hence the debt), and pursue corporate-style CEOs who can lead us into this brave new world (hence the salaries). The non-flagships can’t pursue this strategy successfully, so we’re seeing a divergence between the two groups.

But it turns out that the data don’t, in fact, support that story. They don’t really support any story. The NYT article is based on a report from the Institute for Policy Studies, a progessive think tank. And as I read it, things didn’t seem quite right. IPS reports on the number of adjunct faculty at these institutions, but I haven’t seen good data anywhere on the number of adjuncts. And administrative spending at publics increased 65% between FYs 2006 and 2012, as states slashed budgets?

So I went to their sources. The IPS data on adjuncts and administrators comes from the American Federation of Teachers, which in turn is taking it from IPEDS. And IPEDS data is notoriously wonky.

Yeah, basically the IPS report is just a mess. IPEDS made some major redefinitions of terms in the middle — like who falls under “Part-time/Instruction, Research and Public Service,” what IPS is calling “Adjunct Labor” — so the years aren’t comparable with each other, and AFT appears to have mislabeled some of the years entirely. The University of Minnesota’s impressively fast PR office has a debunking report up, and while I haven’t checked all the numbers, my impression is that it’s right on target.

That doesn’t disprove my theory that there will be increasing divergence between the model for flagships and the path taken by the rest of the publics. And it’s entirely possible that universities with highly paid presidents have underwhelming outcomes in other areas. But if we’re going to argue over what to do about it, it would be nice if it were based on numbers that actually mean something.


Written by epopp

May 19, 2014 at 3:05 am

5 Responses

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  1. thank you for post, very interesting. It reminds me of a study looking at the narrative “up or out” in German universities. Data showed that the situation was much more nuanced and many remain in academia on longterm positions without being professors. My take on “adjuncts” in the US is that this category is now in the political debate, these workers are more self-aware of their rights/opportunities. For me it reflects the tension entailed in the structure of academic careers, where a minority succeeds and gets not only tenure, but also prestige and all sorts of Resources. Is this sustainable in the mass university With so many diverse students and programs? And, is it really efficient to Waste so many Resources in graduate education? Finally, about organizational membership, what happens to the university when most academic staff is part-time or fixed-term, while at the same time taking care of core activities – teaching and Research? Maybe you need a highly paid leadership in order to take care of organizational culture.


    Tatiana Fumasoli

    May 19, 2014 at 3:57 am

  2. Interesting. The Ohio State administrative increase numbers seemed hard to believe. On the other hand, unlike for Minnesota, I can’t find any information from OSU on the actual number of administrative positions. The AFT data shows a huge jump that must be a coding change, but I wonder how big the actual change is. Universities are becoming “fat and mean” for sure (



    May 20, 2014 at 3:21 am

  3. @Tatiana – My impression is that a greater fraction of academics in the German system are insecure, but the wage they earn is better in the meanwhile. One of the many challenges with the adjunct problem in the US is that the group is extremely diverse — there are the “freeway flyers” trying to piece together a living teaching at four different campuses, but lots of well-paid professionals (engineers, business people) who enjoy teaching a college class on the side. So organizing is an uphill battle. Lots of good points — I hope to address some of them in the future!

    @Tim – the Delta Cost Project, which also uses IPEDS but I trust more, says that at public research universities, executive/managerial/administrative staff per 1000 students declined 17% between 1990 and 2012, while professional staff increased 38%. (Part-time faculty increased 66%, full-time faculty 3%.) Professional staff includes both student services and business support. The picture’s definitely not good.



    May 20, 2014 at 4:00 am

  4. Thanks! There are definitely lots of people with “VP” in their titles here at OSU, but I can accept that there are even more working behind them.



    May 20, 2014 at 2:48 pm

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