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More Background on the Staff

It turns out that data can be found about the College’s non-faculty staffing numbers going back to 1987. Jim Freedman ran a tight ship: staffing did not increase at all during his years in office (1987-1998), and in the 90’s the College’s endowment grew faster than that of any other Ivy. Those two facts are not unrelated. What’s more, the consensus on the faculty is that Freedman increased the intellectual caliber of both the student body and the administration (though he was not without his faults).

However, après Freedman le déluge:

Factbook Staff 1987-2014.jpg

Jim Wright took the helm in 1998 and once he had control of the budget in the following year, our current woes began. Spending skyrocketed, and in the 2000-2010 period, our endowment growth went from best to worst in the Ivies. We’ve focused on Wright’s myriad failings elsewhere, but let’s hone in on the staffing question.

As we have discussed repeatedly, non-faculty staffing was at 2,408 people in 1999. By 2002 it had reached 3,311 — an increase of 37.5% in just three years. Recall that during Jim Freedman’s decade in office, the support staff did not grow at all.

Where did the Wright growth occur? As we have mentioned, mismanagement leads to staffing growth everywhere, but during Wright’s early years three areas can be pointed to: the Student Life Initiative led to a large expansion in the Dean of the College’s office (and when the SLI was rolled back, everyone kept their jobs); an initiative called Diversify the Campus tried to upgrade the quality of the support staff by bringing in supposedly professional educational administrators (with a concomitant decline in the influence of the faculty); and finally research spending grew by over 50% in that period.

Curiously staffing stayed pretty much flat for the next seven years, despite a further increase in research spending, and what people say is a layering of government obligations on institutions of higher learning. Of course, a little discipline kicked in due to the bursting of the dot.com bubble.

With the 2007-2008 crisis, Wright finally cut out some of the fat, but with Jim Kim’s arrival on campus (and despite his disingenuous protestations), spending was off the races again. Today the College has more non-faculty staffers than it has ever had in its history.

And what have all of these extra people done for educational quality? Our U.S. ranking has regularly dropped since Wright arrived in office (it has never been lower that it is today), and we are now the second most expensive Ivy after Columbia. Would anyone argue with a straight face that Dartmouth has grown stronger since the hiring binge began in 1999?

Addendum: Over the past year, my local business has received a significant number of resumés from people leaving the College’s employ, so there are signs that at least in some areas, management might be more rigorous. We’ll soon see at what level non-faculty staffing stood at the end of 2015. Let’s hope that growth has been slow or non-existent. That would be a mildly positive sign.

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