Redirecting our attention

Debate over department and degree viability has us split and distracted from real change.

Andy Stec, Senior Columnist

There’s been a significant rise in discourse on and off campus since the Oracle’s last two issues. Panels, community discussion and debate have already sparked on the Program Review Work Group’s (PRW) recommendations for changes of the fall 2017 curriculum. Among the more provocative suggestions is the elimination of the Women’s Studies, African-American Studies and East Asian Studies programs in their entirety—and instead conjoining them within the Social Justice and Global Studies programs. Further concern arises from the notion of replacing all minors with “stackable credentials;” a prospect garnering a general reaction of unease.

The PRW’s recommendations deserve to be debated and discussed amongst members of the student body and faculty who should, now more than ever, have their voices heard. The annihilation of entire departments, programs and academic structures is an option that should not be taken lightly. We should, naturally, expect that our university has taken every avenue into account before deciding on eliminating departments and threatening the diversity of our course listings. The very ideals of a Liberal Arts institution are threatened when its listings are butchered, and its academics can only be expected to suffer if they are billed as next on the chopping block.

But our administration has not considered every avenue.

While an extensive and exhaustive program review is carried out every three years, it remains that the administration itself is not privy to any internal review of its own.

Last year, Professor David Schultz wrote a fantastic open letter to the university which remains among my personal favorites recently published in the Oracle. In it, he addressed this pressing issue which has—somehow—managed to be ignored by the wider debate the PRW’s review has garnered. This is the concern of the immense and undeniable bloating of administrative positions and salaries in American higher education.

An exhaustive study carried out by the Delta Cost Project in 2010 confirmed that between 1998 and 2008, American private universities increased spending on instruction by 22% while increasing spending on administration and staff support in that time by 36%. U.S. Department of Education data suggests that, since the early 70s, instructor and adjunct instructor positions had increased by just over 50%—while administrators had increased by 84% and administrative staffers by a whopping 240%. In many institutions, administration has accrued up to 15% of University budgets.

While the fallout of the PRW’s review has seemingly split the univeristy in twain—debates raging over which programs, facilities and departments deserve to be cut—the Hamline administration sits idly by, far above it all. Older students at Hamline are no strangers to former President Linda Hanson’s exuberant salary of over $490,000. Today, it remains unclear if President Miller has made any changes to this—the second highest paying private presidential salary in the state. While faculty salary and benefits, department viability and adjunct standing are steadily audited for any chance at slimming down costs, the administration remains contently safe. The Chronicle of Higher Education recorded that, a measly three years ago, our VP for Business Finance and Technology was compensated over $214,000, our Dean over $260,000 and our Provost over $262,000.

It remains unclear what any of these positions pay today, or if they have been reviewed.

In her open letter to the university, President Miller assured us that the financial viability of Hamline University is not at stake. As true as this may be, it ignores the larger implication. There has been a blatant and unsettling disregard for equal sacrifice in our institution. For a university with “…an excellent Liberal Arts tradition, and the ability to attract students who will build on the University’s reputation well into the future,” it certainly seems obvious where our priorities really lie—and it is not in that liberal arts tradition of diverse education. Our financial viability may not be at stake, but our academic viability certainly is.