Faculty Bloat at UVa

Data source: office of Institutional Research & Analytics
by James A. Bacon

A key cost driver at the University of Virginia is the increasing size and declining teaching productivity of its faculty. The topic appears to be taboo.

The Board of Visitors hasn’t discussed it, and there is no indication from publicly available sources that the university administration has engaged in any introspection. The slender evidence available to the UVa community is found on the website of UVa’s office of Institutional Research & Analytics (IR&A), a 17-person office deep within the bowels of the university. While that office does publish limited data online, it has not released any reports of an analytical nature.

Employee salaries, wages and benefits comprise roughly half of the university’s cost structure. While a 25.4% surge in salaried staff accounts for much of the growth in UV’s cost structure between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2022 (see our article, “Hard Numbers on Administrative Bloat“), a 9.5% increase in “faculty” was a significant contributor as well. If we count teaching faculty only (tenure-track professors, lecturers and instructors) and exclude departmental-level administrators, whose numbers have been slashed, the “faculty” headcount bounded ahead by 25.7%.

By contrast, annualized FTE enrollment rose 8.8%.

Headcount doesn’t tell the whole tale. It also matters what employees get paid. And therein resides another interesting story. There is a two-tier hierarchy at UVa, as there is in most of academia. Tenure-track professors, comprising the academic aristocracy, saw salaries increase significantly faster than inflation over the past 10 years. Instructors and lecturers, constituting an academic proletariat typically employed in one-year-contracts, lost ground to inflation. Here is a summary of how the various academic ranks fared between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2022:

Cost of Living calculated between July 2011 and June 2021.

This graph, taken directly from the IT&A website, shows the trendlines over a longer period of time. One might say that UVa’s faculty is emblematic of the growing income inequality so often decried by… UVa faculty.

Graphic source: office of Institutional Research & Analytics

The following table shows employment headcount for three categories of faculty — tenure-track faculty, general faculty (instructors and lecturers), and administrative general faculty — as well as various categories of salaried staff.

To view a more legible version of this table, click here.

UVa’s long-standing practice since fiscal 2012 has been to squeeze administrative support for faculty at the departmental level, exercise modest discipline in the hiring of tenure-track faculty, and ramp up the hiring of instructors and lecturers. Put another way, UVa has been relying increasingly upon lower-paid, short-term faculty members, throttling their compensation over time while funneling generous pay raises to tenure-track faculty.

This high-altitude view might hide sub-trends that could put a different color on things. For example, while the data show that full professors enjoy the highest and fastest-increasing pay on average compared to other groups, we don’t know if pay raises for most full professors are comparable to those for the lower orders. The average number could be skewed by a few highly paid super-stars whose pay is supplemented by endowed chairs or other remunerations. Further study is desirable before drawing hard conclusions.

While some matters could stand greater clarity, the data strongly suggest that UVa has a faculty productivity problem. Remember, enrollment increased only 8.8% over this period. If we exclude “administrative” faculty (on the grounds that secretaries and administrative assistants don’t teach), then the ranks of UVa’s faculty increased by 25.7%. Adjusted for the slight increase in enrollment, it took 15.8% more non-administrative “faculty” to teach the same number of students. If class sizes were shrinking commensurately, then it might be claimed that faculty are teaching smaller, more intimate classes. That is an empirical matter that should be easy enough to resolve… if the UVa administration were interested in finding answers.

But a very different scenario seems more likely to be true. A case can be made that UVa has been shifting the teaching workload from UVa’s academic aristocrats, who tend to place a higher value on career-advancing research and writing than teaching, to instructors and lecturers. Instructors commonly teach three or four classes per semester, senior faculty only one or two.

Another factor worth exploring is the degree to which administrative authority has shifted from faculty departments to UVa’s salaried bureaucracy. Time was, faculty departments were largely self-governing and autonomous. But UVa, like other higher-ed institutions, has been centralizing power in the hands of administrative staff who are even more cosseted, highly paid, and hierarchical than the professoriat. Whether this evolution has resulted in more administrative work or less for faculty members remains an open question. On the one hand, faculty may have dished off some mundane chores to staff. On the other hand, the multiplication of administrators seeking to justify their existence may have resulted in more busy work. The latter possibility can be seen in the “Inclusive Excellence” mania that has plunged departments into bouts of self-flagellation and corrective measures over their self-professed racism.

The escalating cost of attendance should be an all-consuming preoccupation of the Board of Visitors. Any discussion about affordability needs to begin with a hard-nosed look at UVa’s bloated administrative staff and declining faculty productivity. Ignoring those topics, as past boards have done, represents a dereliction of duty.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct an erroneous statement in the original version that student enrollment increased only 1.1% between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2022. The correct figure was 8.8%.

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The Bootstrap Kid
The Bootstrap Kid
6 months ago

Faculty bloating at universities and foundations is one of the many methods that the woke left funds itself at the expense of plumbers, waiters, truck drivers, and the rest of the private sector.

walter smith
walter smith
6 months ago

There is so much wrong…besides the indoctrination!
Are the students getting their money’s worth (their parent’s money worth! Or the taxpayers’ debt shift that Biden wants) being instructed by the one-year contract lecturers, instead of the so-called superstar, tenure track profs? Why not Coursera for that? In fact, Coursera might be better!
And the tenure track faculty increase could also reflect the increase in offerings in the course catalog, and half of the offerings in obscure majors could be dropped, beefing up the classical type curriculum capacity, and you would simultaneously lower costs and improve the education.

UVA wins awards for low cost, but that is a very low bar to jump in academia. Watering down the academic rigor and increasing the costs is the road to ruin, along with abandoning things like honor and freedom of thought and speech, all in service of Ryan’s Great and Good Manifesto. “Good” for Jim Ryan and his Admin is creating a phalanx of good little activists for “good” – which means working for Leftist NGOs, working in lawfare to advance Leftist causes, researching :”climate change” and “sustainability” and “social justice” with more and more government grants, going to work on Capitol Hill to advance those causes and the money. As currently operated, UVA is a money laundering enterprise for the Democrat party, which is no longer your father’s Democrat party.
The BOV is to set policy. The President is to execute it. The BOV is supposed to represent all of the Commonwealth, not be a political hack organization. Let’s get the priorities straight and get UVA back on its educational mission – please!

6 months ago
Reply to  walter smith

Walter, I have NO idea how UVA can win awards for low costs of attendance. Its instate and out-of- state tuition is $15-20,000 more than its top state school peers (with the exception of Michigan). UNC for example is $36,891 for out-of-state tuition vs. $55,594 for UVA. That puts out total “cost of attendance” per the UVA website at over $80K, same as the Ivy League and top private colleges.

US News and World Report ranks UVA #25, UNC #29. If cost is a factor where would you send your child? We’re losing top talent. The UVA Administration cares nothing about economic diversity.

legacy grad 69'
legacy grad 69'
6 months ago

What exactly is the cost of Academic Research? The mission of The University to educate is diminished with time spent away from teaching for publication in obscure journals. Research could be accomplished on the professors’ own time. Community Colleges seem to accomplish much more for far less costs with people who like to teach without the current feudal society which exists in elite institutions.

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson
6 months ago

I read years ago that the typical UVA professor spends 5.2 hours in the classroom per week. Do you know if this is still true? If so, the salaries are even more bloated than one might think.

David Brown
David Brown
6 months ago

Are you sure about the enrollment number? I went to the IR&A website and pulled enrollment for 2012 and 2022 and found a 9% increase. Did I miss something?

2012 2022 Delta Delta %
23,907 26,149 2,242 9%