Universities could use PhDs to do administrative work

[Read the post]

They already do that? A fair number of administrators do indeed hold PhDs. That’s not what many were trained to do, and not what many want to do, though. The ones who want to work as administrators work their way up through their departments into deans offices. But not too few PhDs (and many MAs and ABDs) who can’t find those increasingly rare tenure track jobs (because it’s cheaper to pay adjuncts/grad students/visiting lecturers to teach survey courses), also turn to working in deans offices, in HR, in departments as staff, in registration offices, etc, for employment when they are sick of trying to make ends meet teaching 5 classes a semester for shit wages.

The problem in many fields is that we have a glut of PhDs and a paucity of tenure track positions (with the majority of those going to the PhDs coming out of the Ivy league schools - leaving some smaller percentage for the rest of us to scuffle over). Many of the PhDs want to do research, not teach undergrads, so a liberal arts school or a community college tends to be seen as unacceptable (I’m not of that view and will gladly go to work at a school that puts teaching over research).

So, since this is already happening - I’m not sure this article is covering any new ground here.


Yes but PhD’s get uppity when they’re not hungry.


I don’t know… if you spent tons of $$$$ and a decade of your life pursuing something, you too, might be bitter if it didn’t work out as you planned.


… and that’s why I’m working in a cushy government administrative position now - without any connection to the field I studied and worked in … but at least the money is decent.


Sure, I’m not arguing against alternatives, as I, myself, plan to keep that in mind once I’m done. I’m explaining where the bitterness comes from. It’s not from nowhere. Also, many grad students are not warned about the job market until it’s far too late to change course.


For starters, this all hinges on a completely false premise: that universities (or their Powers that Be) have a problem with the adjunct situation.

They don’t. They perpetuate it because it benefits them, as they understand being benefited.

If faculty everywhere rose up and restored medieval (or even early 20th-century) style faculty governance, sure, this would be a great transitional plan. But that’s as likely to happen as Uber becoming a worker-owned co-op.

Meanwhile, and I say this as someone firmly on the “lucky” side of the tenure line, it’s all well and good to bemoan the explosion of administrative overhead. Some of it truly is unnecessary; some of it has been forced on universities by external agencies but is functionally unnecessary, and some of it is and always has been necessary. But the necessary parts require people who can do them well, and that is unlikely to be somebody whose training and experience lie entirely in a different area!

I don’t say this to disparage myself or my faculty colleagues, but there are an enormous number of vital jobs at my university I simply can’t do or do well, nor could I have learned to do them well while qualifying myself to teach. And I’m not inexperienced with generic “administrative” work, either. I’m not dumb or socially backward or totally flaky. But I’d atrophy as a scholar (or be overtaken by my field) in no time flat if I were teaching time-to-time only as an emergency overflow measure, and I’d be a nightmare of unreliability if I tried to do full-time administrative stuff while teaching and researching enough to stay current.

Speaking on behalf of a profession that, depending on how you look at it, has either shit the bed itself or allowed someone else to shit in it, I realize I shouldn’t be automatically dismissive of good new ideas. But this is neither new nor good, nor (to come at it from the other side) going to happen regardless.


Because if you don’t have a PhD you are not worthy of a secure admin job, because your abilities are valueless it seems … because being an academic is the only mark of competence in the world … and this isn’t a form of bigotry because … ?

1 Like

No one said any of that. the point of the article was that there are a glut of PhDs and maybe them having administrative jobs would be a good way to deal with that particular issue. No one is saying that people without PhDs shouldn’t do these jobs.

And if you actually read the comments of people who are part of academia (myself and @semiotix and @FFabian), you’d see that none of us are imaging ourselves as somehow better than people who work in administration - just that it can be a different skill set. Not better, but different. In fact, @FFabian apparently works in administration (government, though, not academic). I’m sure he works with people from various backgrounds and I’m sure that his college degree doesn’t make him think he’s better than his colleagues.

Why not try reading instead of jumping to conclusions and be part of the conversation… Hell, maybe this conversation isn’t for you if you’re not an academic or an administrator.


Agreed. It really is a different skill set, even when the service work academics do is taken into consideration.[quote=“semiotix, post:7, topic:76398”]
I’d be a nightmare of unreliability if I tried to do full-time administrative stuff while teaching and researching enough to stay current.

There is also the problem that many academics are already overworked.

But I agree that the solution is not particularly novel or useful.


I think he means staff positions which are not often staffed by PhDs. It could work out, but I think our postdocs are doing better than the staff with regard to salary, healthcare, etc. Not sure it would be an improvement at most R1s these days.

In my opinion, adjuncts are a reflection of state budget cuts that have decimated the public university system in the US. Universities need to increase enrollment (and tuition) to make up the gap from state budget cuts and the sequester that slashed overhead from federal grants. Administrations and departments are in a bind trying to meet all of these needs with disappearing support. Adjuncts have filled that hole and unfortunately it may be hard to reverse that trend at many universities.


Maybe he meant that, but he said administration. Administration means a fair number of positions, from a dean, to people who work in a president’s office, to people who work in non-academic departments (registration, HR, etc). At my department, at least, the staff positions are people who are professionals who fill those positions (our business manager, for example, secretary, and the grad coordinator). They tend to be hires of the departments, I think, not the university. where as my friend who works at the university in registration was hired by GSU, not an academic department. And there aren’t an endless supply of staff positions either.

the problem is that adjuncts are poorly paid, with little to no job security (which as @semiotix pointed out, could be seen as a plus for the university, but not for the departments).

And of course most postdocs are highly competitive, too, with many newly minted PhDs looking to fill those slots, as it looks better than a series of adjuncting positions at a great number of universities.

I don’t think there are easy answers here.

1 Like

Reading over the linked article again, I can’t even tell which administrative positions he’s talking about–which makes me more annoyed the more I think about it.

Does he mean things like vice-presidents and deans and program directors? Those are already mostly former faculty who made a conscious choice to orient their careers in that direction–many of whom retain tenure and the occasional optional course load in their home departments.

Does he mean management jobs, like IT director, or physical plant management, or human resources staff, or admissions director, or budget and planning? Those jobs not only have job-specific knowledge requirements that a given Ph.D. won’t meet, but require long uninterrupted job tenures for the university to do anything more than crisis management. You can’t just have someone take three months off from planning the next capital campaign because Comp 101 is overenrolled.

Or does he mean the “unimportant” jobs that “anyone” can do, like clerical work? In which case I’m angry with myself for even taking this seriously enough to rebut it once, and I’m sure as hell not going to bother parsing out whether he’s being more insulting to the people who have those jobs or the people he’d replace them with.



This problem with US academia is an explosion of positions that don’t have to do with student contact or any teaching (or perhaps research) mission. What do all these administrators do?


Isn’t this a bit rough on people who want to be admins as a career?

1 Like

Good question. Not academia but we have a local charity here that employs 3 people part time; the manager for 20 hours a week, the finance person for 12 and the facilities person (a hands on job) for 8. This is inverse pyramid with a vengeance.


Agreed all the way around.

There is one easy solution and that is to restore state support for public higher education. That would go along way towards restoring the salary lines for the support staff that have been cut at various levels (university, colleges, and departments). I am tired of living with sky high overhead rates and tuition increases to fill the vacuum left by state cuts. We only get to survive to see another round of cuts from all these budgeting changes, and do not see better service from university administration. In fact, we do more busy work than ever before.


This particular article is dealing with the number of PhDs, not the expansion of administration.

The expansion of administration in part came from the increasing tendency of the university taking power away from departments, and centralizing administrative duties.


Is there really a surplus of PhDs? If so, who’s funding them? (what is a glut of PhDs, anyway? Is it more that universities aren’t funding post-doc research as much any more?)

Suggesting that PhDs take jobs that don’t require or fit well with PhDs doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

1 Like