UC Berkeley’s drop in ranking tied to administrative spending

letter to the editor
Willow Yang/File

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It is enlightening to juxtapose UC Berkeley administration’s recent call for more revenue with our slipping in rankings with respect to UCLA. Will the additional faculty burden of generating extra revenue streams further impact our university’s ability to stay ahead of the competition in terms of our excellence in undergraduate teaching and research?

Our recent history might provide a perspective. UC Berkeley increased its revenue from $2.2 billion in 2011 to $2.6 billion in 2016. Unfortunately, spending increased to $2.7 billion. A large fraction of that increased spending went to central campus administration. This continues a decades-long trend where faculty numbers have remained flat all while administrative expenses have grown extravagantly. The bucket leaks while we struggle to keep it filled.

To be sure, central campus provides critical services. Some examples include admissions, which consumes roughly $4 million in salary, the registrar’s office which consumes about $2 million and mental health services which consumes about $4 million, as of 2015. For comparison purposes, the combined chancellor’s and vice chancellor’s offices, of which we have many, spend roughly $34 million, of which salary comprises nearly $20 million. The numbers are according to publicly available financial records.

Total wages (which includes benefits) are roughly $1.6 billion at Berkeley. So where does the rest of that compensation go? Academic senate faculty wages and benefits consume just 18 percent of total compensation expense. The hole in the bucket is not small!

In light of the rise of UCLA to the No. 1 public university club, it is worth noting that UCLA’s administration appears to consume a significantly smaller slice of their pie, according to federal data. If UC Berkeley were as efficient as UCLA, we could easily add 100 faculty to campus today … several times over.

Another perspective on all this is that our internationally top-ranked academic departments have stagnated in size, while our central administration, whose services are ranked in the bottom 20 out 382 colleges by the Princeton Review, have been exploding. Filling the leaky bucket may help hide the problem for a while but only with further damage to our excellence.

Sad.

Satish Rao is a professor at UC Berkeley.