Administrators ‘help relieve stress burden’ on academics

Mix of survey and employment data offered as caution to those blaming high costs on administrative bloat

九月 16, 2021
Female hands popping the bubbles of bubble wrap. Stress relief
Source: iStock

The theme of university administrators infuriating academics with bureaucratic requests is a well-worn one. But an analysis covering about 150 US campuses has found that higher education professionals play a valuable role in reducing the stress on faculty, who otherwise are left to handle non-academic tasks.

The study, by a University of Wyoming researcher, compares survey responses from more than 3,600 scholars reporting their stress levels with staffing data at their institutions as reported to the federal government.

The findings were presented as a caution to critics, largely in right-wing circles, who have been calling on universities to reduce their administrative spending as part of a strategy to tackle the rising costs of higher education.

That viewpoint does not appear to be backed by the available evidence, according to the study published in the journal Innovative Higher Education.

The report, compiled by Gabel Taggart, an assistant professor of public administration at Wyoming, shows that faculty fared better mentally when relieved of the stress of clerical and secretarial duties.

It also cites a previous Indiana University study that found that a robust level of administrative staff – up to 30 per cent of a university’s overall workforce – can help institutions increase their degree production.

“Shadow work – increased administrative work due to less clerical and secretarial support – may be causing extra stress for faculty members,” Dr Taggart writes.

“In one scenario increased shadow work will cut into one or more of research, teaching, or service productivity; but overall work levels will remain. In another scenario increased shadow work leads to increased overall workload and work-life balance suffers.

“In each of these scenarios, student outcomes could also be affected as could job outcomes like turnover intention.”

Criticism of administrative spending is nevertheless commonplace in higher education. One leading proponent of that view is the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a politically conservative group that aims to advise institutional governing boards and has issued reports tallying administrative staff expenditures and describing them as often problematic.

The University of California system also has been criticised on that front by its own state auditors.

Dr Taggart’s report was based on university workforce data from the US Department of Education, combined with survey results from the company NetWise Data, which questioned faculty during the 2006-07 academic year about their job-related stress and its sources.


Print headline: Administrators ease stress burden on scholars



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Reader's comments (3)

Jag tycker om att alla människor som ojämlikhet av varandra tillsammans livet
All I can say is that the US must differ from the UK! Often, central administrators are appointed who then offload work onto departments for no purpose that can be perceived by academics. The amount of bureaucracy has increased substantially over my near 30-year academic career.
It is no exagerration to say that front line adminstrative colleagues both staff and student facing are the life blood of the university. The problem of managerial bloat that people have is to do with proliferation of "managers", partocularly middle level managerial positions. Many of these positions are not created as a result of any deep analysis of the needs of the instituion but simply to give the illusion that there is a career path. In many cases these places are filled by people who have no HE experience. With ill defined jobs and lack of experience arises the problem of people having to make up their own responsibilites to justify their positions and problems of interacting with academics or students . Hardly their fault, rather it is faulty HR planning. As far as front line staff are concerned, in many places front line positions are under staffed, under paid, under appreciated resulting in high staff turnover and staff shortages and exacerbates the problem. Sadly front line staff and are often blamed for issues not of their making.