Monday, April 30, 2012

The grass is rarely greener

It's always worth remembering that things are often worse elsewhere.

The University of Canterbury annual reports have expenditures on academic salaries at $82m, with another $79m for general staff. So we're still spending more on academics than on administrators.

I doubt that's true at the University of California, if today's report is correct [HT: Marginal Revolution].
Data available from the UC Office of the President shows that there were 2.5 faculty members for each senior manager in the UC system in 1993. Now there are as many senior managers as faculty.  Just think: Each professor could have his or her personal senior manager.
I'd be pretty surprised if the general staff didn't outnumber the academic staff at Canterbury - while the upper echelons of administrators will earn a fair bit more than most academic staff, that's not the bulk of the general staff. We wouldn't be spending more on academics than on general staff if we had a senior manager for each line academic.

But, the time series may not be that different. The 2000 Annual Report had UC paying $52.7m in academic and technical staff salaries and $28.1m for general staff. I don't know whether technicians in the bench sciences count among academic or general staff for the 2011 salary breakdown; if their categorization changed, that explains some of the time path.

I like Cowen's summary of academia. It's worth keeping in mind whenever all-staff emails make you shake your head in wonder.
The United States circa 2012 is one of the most productive economies of all time, arguably the most productive if you take into account size and diversification (rules out Norway, etc.).  Internationally speaking, in the richest and most productive global economy of all time, which is our most competitive sector?
Hollywood?  Maybe, but it could well be higher education.  Students from all over the world want to go to U.S. higher education.  If we had nicer immigration authorities, this advantage would be all the more pronounced.
In other words, I work in what is perhaps the most competitive and successful sector in the most competitive and successful economy of all time.
And yet what I see around me is a total, total mess.  And I believe my school to be considerably above average in terms of how well it is run.
Dilbert is universal; the grass is rarely greener.

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