The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters

reviewed by Martin Finkelstein - May 18, 2012

coverTitle: The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters
Author(s): Benjamin Ginsberg
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Oxford
ISBN: 019978244X, Pages: 264, Year: 2011
Search for book at

The title says it all: Benjamin Ginsberg, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, has written a volume that at once documents the explosive growth of academic (and nonacademic) administration in our colleges and universities over the past half century and explains how that development has, in effect, eviscerated the faculty role in steering the academic enterprise. It is an argument that is deceptively simple—advanced with the sparing use of data and the plentiful use of anecdote, but almost always with an entertaining edge (entertaining, that is, if you are a faculty member, as is this reviewer).

In the very first chapter, Ginsberg chronicles the decline of faculty influence in a variety of areas of campus governance, including the selection of administrators, the establishment of new programs, and the setting of academic spending priorities. And to this decline, he juxtaposes the rise of campus administration, including both individuals in academic administrative roles (a veritable army of assistant, associate, deputy, and vice deans and provosts whom he affectionately—or derisively—refers to as “deanlings” and “deanlets”), as well as professional staff (including information technology, development, legal, and other staff). Although he recognizes that this meteoric growth in administration may be attributable in part to sheer growth of enrollments, increasing government regulation, and faculty acquiescence in off-loading unpleasant tasks, he concedes the insufficiency of these explanations and advances an alternative one: “efforts of administrators to aggrandize their own roles in academic life” (p. 33). As quintessential bureaucrats, “they often invent new functions to perform or seek to capture functions currently performed by others” (p. 33). The rise of administration thus represents the mythical hydra perpetually growing new heads.

The stage is thus set for alternatively demonizing—or at least caricaturing—the administrative estate, although Ginsberg concedes that there are some very fine administrators. In Chapter 2, he identifies with appropriate gravity the three basic components of administrative work: (1) attending meetings, retreats, and conferences; (2) planning (drafting and redrafting strategic plans); and (3) polishing the institutional image and fundraising. When all is said and done, administrators, he contends, spend their time holding meetings and finding new tasks for themselves. And for this, they command the highest and most competitive salaries. In Chapter 3, appropriately titled “Managerial Pathologies,” Ginsberg recounts the strategies through which administrative careerists act to advance their own in contradistinction to the institution’s interests. These include sabotage and shirking (not really doing their job), squandering resources that they control, corruption, theft and fraud—all amply illustrated with tales from the Chronicle of Higher Education. In Chapter 4, Ginsberg argues that administrators, ever politically adept, have taken on the role of protectors of women and minority groups on campus as a vehicle for increasing their own power: Faculty, especially liberal faculty, are loath to criticize any action taken to preserve or advance diversity (including civility codes) and so countenance administrative aggrandizement in these areas, lest they be cast as enemies of diversity.

At this point, the book turns from a description and explanation of administrative malfeasance to an examination of the consequences for academic work and priorities of the increasing administratively driven university. And here, Ginsberg gets down to some serious and portentous issues. First and foremost is the diminishing salience of teaching and research needs as drivers of university decision making. Administrators, according to Ginsberg, view teaching as a means rather than an end. Their “demand side” view of curriculum and teaching assumes that the latter should be shaped by the interest and preferences of students and parents in contradistinction to the faculty’s supply-side view, that is, the view that students are insufficiently mature to decide what’s best and that it is the responsibility of the faculty to supply what they, as the content “experts,” deem most important—hence, the dominance of careerism and life preparation at the expense of rigorous degree requirements and whole areas of less practical and popular knowledge. In the realm of research, the all-administrative university strives to maximize federal overhead reimbursement and to pursue proprietary institutional interests in intellectual property.

Related to the core missions of teaching and research are those faculty who shoulder the major responsibilities for achieving them. Specifically, Ginsberg focuses on the decline of tenure, the increasing use of contingent faculty (wholly subservient to the administrators who hire them), and the pattern of responding to budget cuts with reductions in academic core activities and personnel rather than peripheral administrative activities. Although his account of the historical growth and decline of faculty influence sometimes lacks nuance, Ginsberg does provide a very intriguing macro-analysis of the impetus behind both its initial rise and subsequent fall. Specifically, he locates the dynamic in the changing interests of college and university presidents. In the late 19th century, according to Ginsberg, presidents turned to faculty as allies in their efforts to contain the ambitions of governing boards (they asserted to their boards that faculty professionalism required that board authority be ceded in many areas). This, he argues, accounts for the rapprochement between leaders of the Association of American Universities and the American Association of University Professors in first decades of the 20th century on the Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Once the presidents had consolidated their hold on the reins of the institution (and contained their boards), they no longer needed an alliance with the faculty. Indeed, the faculty became a nuisance and required the design of a series of strategies, including financial exigency, to neutralize them. This is an intriguing explanation, and one that certainly goes beyond the typical tribute to academic professionalism and the shaping role of competition for institutional prestige (although the two explanations are not mutually exclusive).

Finally, Ginsberg concludes with something of a level-headed call to arms. He recommends a troika of interventions designed to identify and address the problem of “administrativization” of the university. Most fundamentally, he urges boards of trustees and the media to attend to administrative bloat by inquiring into administrator–faculty and administrator–student ratios on their campuses. How do such ratios compare with those of peer institutions? (Ginsberg identifies wildly divergent ratios at some of our best known institutions.) Second, he suggests that faculty must find ways to establish and regularize direct communication with boards (one way to do so being the establishment of a faculty trustee slot). Finally, he suggests that faulty must actively resist administrative incursions into the curriculum, the largest being the movement toward outcomes-based education (they had better engage the regional accrediting associations as well on that score).

All told, The Fall of the Faculty provides a cogent and even occasionally entertaining look at the new “managerial revolution” in American higher education. The term managerial revolution, of course, was coined some 45 years ago by Brooks and Rourke (1967) when explosive enrollment growth first led to the expansion and, most important, the professionalization of administration—the emergence of a body of knowledge and best practices as well as a corps of career administrators. In a sense, what Ginsberg is describing is the ultimate consummation of that managerial revolution begun in the 1970s and consolidated in the past several decades. The implications are ominous for universities as we have historically known them—in ways that are importantly highlighted in this volume. So, Ginsberg is clearly on to something important. My quibbles with this volume are threefold. First, there is the matter of tone. Although Ginsberg’s piercing eye can be illuminating, it can also lack balance. There is no need to dub those in academic administrative roles as “deanlings” and “deanlets”; such caricatures detract from the gravity of the analysis and tend alternatively to trivialize or demonize what are serious and important developments. Second is the related matter of sourcing. In a nutshell, there is an overreliance on the Chronicle, Inside Higher Education, and the popular media, and an under reliance on the plentiful social science literature. Finally, and this is the greatest limitation of the volume, there is the matter of fairly narrow perspectives on administration itself as the driver of change. The managerial revolution in higher education is certainly enabled by administrators, but it is neither initiated nor driven by them. The past generation has seen a reorganization of the work of physicians, attorneys, accountants, engineers, and other professionals, as well as a more general redesign of organizations and work roles in a globalized, knowledge-based economy. The impetus for many of the changes that Ginsberg documents lies in a structural change quite outside the university. That needs to be explicitly recognized if the components of the problem are to be properly addressed and if we are to distinguish between what we can and can’t control. Certainly, the nature of bureaucracy remains the same—to reproduce itself—but what we are seeing is something bigger that demands that we look beyond the campus and more generally into the changing relationship between universities and society in an era of transformation not unlike the initial emergence of the American university more than a century ago.


Brooks, F. E., & Rourke, G. E. (1967). The managerial revolution in higher education.  Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 18, 2012 ID Number: 16771, Date Accessed: 10/16/2021 9:31:34 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review