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Where Did the College Get Fat?

One of this space’s most frequently viewed posts concerns the growth in the number of non-teaching staffers at the College — the bureaucrats and other people who used to be called “support staff” — though it seems now that the College exists to support them. We wrote on April 6, 2014:

While we have hired 447 staffers since 2010, let’s look at how the faculty has grown. Since 2010 we have added only 35.8 professors to the teaching ranks — that’s 11.6 new staffers for each new professor…

People often ask me just where the growth in staffing occurred. It’s hard to answer that question with any precision. After all, the College did not add a law school or make any huge strategic move that would justifiably increase the number of staffers on the payroll.

This question is akin to hearing that a friend gained a lot of weight and then asking just where on his body he gained the weight. That’s silly. You can’t answer, “Well, he gained twenty pounds on his right arm.” The obvious response is that he put on weight everywhere, but you might ask why: possibly some medical condition, or more likely, too much eating and not enough exercise.

So it is with Dartmouth, where an absence of rigorous personnel management is the equivalent of poor personal habits. While the total number of students at the College between 2010-2014 grew by only 2.6% (from 6,141 in 2010 to 6,298 in 2014 — a total increase of 157 students), staffing grew by 14.6% (from 3056 in 2010 to 3,503 in 2014 — a total increase of 447 people).

Regrettably the Dartmouth Factbook’s data is hard to decipher in this area: the content of the various categories is not explained at all, and it turns out according to the Office of Institutional Research that various groups of personnel have been put in different categories in various years.

However, going back to our weight gain analogy, what is evident is that the personnel headcount has gone up everywhere (except Finance and Administration):

Staff Growth 2010-2014 Numbers.jpg

In most areas the growth has been 10% at a minimum, and often much more (except at Geisel, in Advancement, and in Finance and Administration):

Staff Growth 2010-2014 Percentage.jpg

The culprit is bad management. If you spend any time around the College you will hear stories of inefficient departments, many utterly unproductive employees, and a mindset that abhors productivity gains if they mean laying off superfluous personnel. (If the gains are put into place, the search is on for other College jobs for the newly redundant staff).

Run your operation in that way for a decade or two and you’ll soon have a bloated monster who needs ever more nourishment and who can do ever less work. Want proof? In 1999 the College had just 2,408 non-faculty staffers, and we had been ranked 7th or 8th by U.S. News for the previous decade; we are only 12th today.

Addendum: Of course, poor management has a way of being consistent. In 2009 I wrote a piece for The D entitled Waste and More Waste. It detailed an analysis of the College’s personnel directory in which we compared the number of people in various departments in 1997 and 2007. The headcount in all areas was up by double-digit figures, even though the number of students had hardly changed.

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