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An "irrational exuberance" for athletics and a shift of resources away from academics are signs higher education is losing focus on its core mission, the American Association of University Professors says in its annual report on the economic status of the profession.
The number of full-time, non-faculty professional employees -- such as coaches, counselors, fundraisers, IT specialists -- quadrupled from 1976 to 2011, the report said, while non-tenure-track faculty positions tripled.
"Universities will say they are not reducing educational quality by replacing full-time tenured faculty with untenured part-time and full-time faculty, but they are," said Saranna Thornton, a Hampden-Sydney College economics professor who co-authored the report.
According to the report, the number of full-time senior administrators more than doubled over 35 years, while tenured and tenure-track faculty employment grew only 23 percent.
The report said the pattern of "substantial salary increases for a very few senior administrators" continues, while pay for full-time faculty remains stagnated.
Nationally, salaries for full-time faculty positions are on average 2.2 percent higher this year, an increase that for the first time in five years edges above the rate of inflation.
Thornton said some of the growth in the number of professional employees may be the result of new requirements, but not many.
"It's not a requirement to have a director of recreational and intramural sports, a student housing residential life officer, director of the women's center, television producer/director, etc.," she said by email.
"Schools are trying to compete for students by offering more co-curricular and extracurricular activities -- but when that comes at the costs of reducing the educational quality of the institution, is that advisable?" she said.
The report's conclusions are based on national figures, but the AAUP provided data on how the trends are playing out in Virginia.
At Virginia Commonwealth University, for example, the number of full-time professional non-faculty positions grew by 54.2 percent, from 570 to 879, from 1987 to 2011. During that period, the number of part-time faculty increased from 215 to 1,191, or 454 percent.
Full-time faculty not on tenure track increased from 152 to 1,070, while tenured faculty increased from 511 to 678 and tenure-track faculty rose from 161 to 250, according to the AAUP.
VCU said its enrollment has risen by 56 percent over that period, from 20,485 in 1987 to 31,899 in 2011. The ratio of students to full-time professional non-faculty positions increased from 36 to 40 students for each full-time professional non-faculty position during this period.
Kathleen Shaw, vice provost for planning and decision support at VCU, said the U.S. Department of Education has changed classifications and definitions over the years, making direct data comparisons difficult.
Further complicating a comparison, she said, is how Virginia public institutions classify employees as either faculty or staff, unlike other states.
She said her job, categorized as professional faculty at VCU, would be termed professional administrator elsewhere.
"Our investment in the core mission has remained solid," she said, but the university has had to balance regulatory and competitive demands.
"Students have asked for a lot of services, and we have provided those," she said.
The AAUP analysis comes as higher education is under scrutiny in Virginia. The public institutions are under General Assembly-mandated study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to determine factors contributing to the rising cost of a college degree.
Among findings so far, JLARC told state lawmakers that about 12 percent or more of student tuition and fees go to intercollegiate athletic programs because sports do not generate enough revenue to cover costs.
In its report, the AAUP said that nationally from 2003-04 to 2010-11, inflation-adjusted per-student spending increased 1 percent at public four-year institutions, while spending per athlete jumped 25 percent. At private four-year institutions, the spending increase was 5 percent and 29 percent, respectively.
The report cites NCAA data showing the most rapid increase in spending during the past decade was in Division III, where institutions emphasized athletics to boost enrollments.
From 2005-06 to 2011-12, median salaries and benefits for head coaches in NCAA Division I-A men's football and basketball doubled after inflation, the report said.
Other findings in the AAUP report:
In Virginia, the highest-paid faculty are at the University of Virginia,where the average salary for a full professor is $150,800. The University of Richmond is second at $147,700, followed by George Mason University at $133,800.
At VCU, the average pay for a full professor is $118,000. It's $122,700 at the College of William and Mary.
Women are paid less in academia: At VCU, female full professors average $108,500, while their male peers earn $121,800. At U.Va., the averages are $133,200 and $155,800, respectively; at UR, $136,400 and $152,00; and at GMU, $114,600 and $139,900.
At Virginia State University, a female with the rank of full professor earns on average $85,400, and a male $88,700. At William and Mary, women average $108,700, compared with $128,300 for men.
Two exceptions among public schools are Longwood University, where a female full professor edges her male colleague, $80,000 to $79,900, and at Christopher Newport University, where the average is $103,500 for female professors and $100,800 for males.
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