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Dinner With the President

Dinner in Paris last month with the President of an excellent college, also much loved by many, it seems. The school received a wonderful write-up in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges.

What a pleasure to speak with a clear-eyed executive, someone who understands that setting priorities and making changes will sometimes make people unhappy. That’s the price of leadership, this President understands.

As we discussed administrative bloat and the need to move resources away from paperpushers towards faculty, our guest advanced a statistic that would gladden the heart of any Dartblog reader: at this school, the ratio of supporting staff to faculty members has been driven down dramatically over the past half-decade or so. Today, there are 1.4 staffers there for every full-time-equivalent faculty member, down from over 2:1. There’s a ratio that tells you something.

Of course, reductions in force were met with lamentations about the importance of community. No matter, the President told us in a firm voice, academic excellence must trump notions of community.

How is Dartmouth doing in this regard? As you will have guessed, not very well. Here are the figures for the entire institution (all data come from the Dartmouth Fact Book). The present ratio of staff to faculty is 3.7:1.

2009 Staffing Total.jpg

Interestingly, Dartmouth’s graduate schools are consistent (and not too bad) in their performance:

2009 Staffing Grad Schools.jpg

However, the undergraduate College shows a bloat that is unacceptable (yes, I am lumping into these figures the President’s Office and certain executive functions which might arguably be spread over the grad schools, too — though taking this into account would not materially change the final ratio) :

2009 Staffing College.jpg

Could Dartmouth do better? There’s an easy answer to that question. In 1999, the entire institution had 2,408 total employees (vs. 3,250 today) and about 10% fewer total faculty members than we have now. By most people’s recall, Dartmouth was a pretty good institution back then, too, even though it had a much lower ratio of staffers to faculty.

Could the College return to that level of staffing? My presidential guest said that cutting staffing to intelligent levels had actually increased efficiency and responsiveness, rather than reducing it. What a thought! Counter-intuitive maybe, but it’s a common sense observation to anyone who worked at Dartmouth in the 1990’s and is now having more trouble than ever dealing with the bloated bureaucracy of the College on the Hill (of Paper).

Addendum: Lest your servant be deemed Scrooge-like in his attitudes, think of the wonderful things that could be done with the money currently wasted on our bloated bureaucracy: extra professors, new up-campus dorms, more sororities, additional student bondage workshops (just kidding), and a range of exciting educational initiatives for an institution newly devoted to its students rather than to its staff.

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