At UConn, management costs increase $4M over four years

The University of Connecticut has steadily increased its executive and manager ranks over the last four school years while research staff and library positions have been declining.

The University of Connecticut's Storrs campus

CT Mirror file photo

The University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus

The 13 additional administrators now working at UConn’s main campus in Storrs and its regional campuses – and the pay increases existing leaders have received – mean the public university is spending $4 million more on salaries for its 121 executives and managers, a 22 percent increase over the last four school years. In addition, the school must pay for the health and retirement benefits for some of these employees.

At the UConn’s Health Center, 10 positions have been added and filled, and management costs have increased by $1.6 million.

However, a comparison between UConn and eight institutions it considers its peers shows its proportion of spending on management to be middle of the pack and the proportion of instructional spending to be better than most.

The data comes from staffing information the U.S. Department of Education collects annually from colleges based on strict parameters it sets for staffing categories. The university provided The Connecticut Mirror with a breakdown of the data between UConn’s main and regional campuses and its health center in Farmington.

The university’s spending for some top executives has been under increased scrutiny in recent weeks after legislative leaders called UConn President Susan Herbst “tone deaf” for giving hefty, previously promised pay increases to four top staff while UConn and the rest of state government struggled to close a budget deficit of almost $1 billion with cuts that fell heavily on education and services for vulnerable populations.

Herbst declined to be interviewed for this article.

In an emailed statement, a university spokeswoman explained the reasoning behind the growth in the number of management positions.

“This is in part due to the growth and restructuring of the university over the last four years,” said Stephanie Reitz. “UConn looks carefully at the need for every administrative and managerial position, and is always actively assessing areas where we can create efficiencies without compromising academic and research quality.”

Some of the newly created positions include an associate dean of students (to support the dean of students), a director for the new Office of Veterans and Military Programs, and a vice president for strategic initiatives to oversee the Next Generation initiative that aims to increase student enrollment and research and build and renovate labs, dorms and classrooms on campus. The number of executives overseeing research also has increased from three to six to help overcome the slow growth of research activity over the last several years.

“The vision is to have the necessary staff in place to do the work that needs to be done, just as the vision for the faculty is having enough faculty members to teach classes and conduct research,” said Reitz. “The university thinks carefully about every position to ensure their work is directly aligned with these needs today and moving forward.”

She also points out that UConn has “kept the percentage of administrators steady over the past decade” at about 2.5 percent of all full-time staff.

The addition of new administrators accompanies a growth in the size of the teaching faculty and the student population, but it outstrips both.

While the number of management positions has jumped by 12 percent since 2012-13, enrollment has increased by 4.9 percent and teaching faculty by 8.2 percent.

Manager ranks grew from 91 positions in 2003 to 121 in the school year that just ended. That translates into one new position for every 168 additional students. As a result, the student-to-administrator ratio has dropped. In 2003 there were 287 students for every executive compared to 258 last school year.

Promises derailed

Over the past four years, the increase of 107 full-time faculty primarily teaching courses helped to accommodate an influx of nearly 1,500 students, lower class sizes and help ensure courses are available so students can graduate on time. However, school officials fell short on a promise to use much of the revenue from a 25.6 percent tuition hike over those years to increase faculty ranks by 290. When adopting their budget last month, school officials said budget constraints have led them to hold off on increasing the number of faculty any further next school year, and enrollment will remain largely flat.

Between 2011 and 2015, the state’s contribution to UConn’s operating expenses declined by about $10.4 million, a 4.4 percent reduction, although it declined more sharply through 2013 and then rebounded. Since then it has again declined and the university is slated to receive about $20 million less in the current fiscal year than it did in 2015-16.

Over the 2012-to-2016 period, there were reductions of 10 librarians, five library technicians, two archivists/curators and eight student and academic affairs staff – a 22 percent reduction.

The cuts to the library have upset some faculty. After UConn discontinued subscriptions to 188 journals, databases and society memberships last school year, some faculty vented their frustration to the school’s provost about having to drive to Yale University to get research materials they needed. Twenty-eight faculty also wrote UCon’s provost in October to protest “the decision to shear the most visible pillar of its research mandate… As it stands now, the holdings of the UConn library are barely adequate for a research institution.”

These cuts have caused the rankings of UConn’s library to suffer. The university plans to reverse this trend by hiring 10 new library staff by Jan. 1 for its main or regional campuses.

“The new vision for the library provides a re-envisioned physical space that allows us to become more efficient and provide seamless and efficient support to our students, faculty and staff,” said Reitz.

The number of faculty and staff who primarily conduct research has decreased by seven at Storrs and other non-medical campuses and by 29 at UConn Health – an overall reduction of 14 percent, though only 3 percent at Storrs and the non-medical campuses.

When state lawmakers agreed in 2013 to spend $2.4 billion to build and renovate classrooms, labs and dorms, the university promised to boost research spending at Storrs by $43 million by 2015. To do that, the university said it would also need  $17.4 million more to cover building operating costs and to hire staff. And while state funding for UConn actually increased by $19.6 million between 2013 and 2015, the state comptroller reports, research spending increased by just $3.9 million.

Officials say they haven’t had enough operating funds to hire all the faculty and researchers they had planned, in part because federal funding for research has not kept pace with inflation and in part because of the high and increasing costs UConn must bear to cover retirement benefits for many of its employees.

The state comptroller each year sets a rate that state agencies and public universities must pay to cover their employees’ non-salary benefits. In 2004, that so-called fringe rate was 31.3 percent for employees who signed up for the state’s pension system (rather than a 401(k) plan), meaning an employee earning $100,000 would actually cost UConn $131,300.

By 2011, the fringe rate was 40 percent. It now stands at 54.99 percent, and there are signs that the rapid increases will continue. Much of the growth is the result of Connecticut’s pension bill finally coming due after decades during which state lawmakers neglected to set aside enough funds to cover future benefits promised to employees.

“There has been fundamentally very little change in research personnel at Storrs and regional campuses in the time period reviewed… Considering the landscape in research funding and the increasing fringe costs on personnel funded by grants, staying relatively flat is good news,” said Reitz. “Not seeing declines in our staff funded by research is a compliment to the continuing competitiveness of our faculty.”

The larger decrease in research positions at the health center, however, has come as the university’s research rankings have suffered.

During the 2004-05 school year, the university, including its health center, ranked 64th among all public and private universities in research spending, a key measure watched by academics nationally to gauge a university’s research activity. By the 2013-14 school year, the school was in 82nd place in the annual rankings published by the National Science Foundation, though nine of the schools ranked better than UConn had not been included in the previous rating.

The slippage was attributable to declines in research spending at the health center. Research funding at Storrs and elsewhere actually rose.

How many managers are at UConn’s peers?

When 16 UConn administrators came to a budget meeting with legislators at the State Capitol earlier this year, it raised eyebrows and questions about whether the school was top-heavy.

The state’s other public college system – the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities – that enrolls 90,000 students compared to UConn’s 31,000, brought four people to its budget meeting that same afternoon.

“There is a perception that surrounds UConn,” Sen. Rob Kane, of Watertown, ranking GOP senator on the Appropriations Committee, told the UConn leaders in attendance.

This perception among legislators has lingered for years.

“It appears [UConn is] a man eating with two forks. And that’s sometimes how we’re asked about expenditures at UConn. You know, when is it enough?” Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, told UConn’s president in 2013.

So how does UConn compare?

While salaries for top officials are benchmarked against their peers, the university does not compare how many administrators they employ compared to peer institutions.

“The wide variance between universities and their disparate functions and priorities make it difficult if not impossible to say whether there’s one ‘right’ number of administrators or a standard by which universities should abide,” said Reitz, the university’s spokeswoman.

She points out that UConn has its own full-service police and fire services and wastewater facility, while other universities receive these services from the municipality in which they are located.

Compared to the eight public schools that UConn considers its peers, UConn and UConn Health spend a higher proportion of their budget on non-instructional administrative costs than five, a review of data from the 2013-14 school year shows. However, not all of UConn’s peers operate hospitals. While 7.8 percent of UConn’s $2.1 billion budget goes to institutional administrative costs, 27.3 percent goes to instruction, meaning it spent a larger proportion on instruction than six of its eight peers.

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