No Comments on Taxonomy

We most often divide businesses like an org chart, into work groups and supervisory lines. And while that reveals some things about the institution, it conceals others. If you were interested in one lake, you might make an inventory of every living thing in that lake. That would be ecology. Taxonomy would look at different groupings, would identify a certain kind of fish as a yellow perch regardless of where it lives.

We’re used to seeing org charts of colleges, but what would the taxonomy of higher ed look like? I think it would look kind of like this: four divisions—F for faculty, S for students, M for managers, and SS for support staff—each with a pair of functional sub-groups.

  • FTT (Faculty—tenure track)
  • FNTT (Faculty—non-tenure track)
  • SU (Students—undergraduate)
  • SG (Students—graduate)
  • ME (Managers—executive)
  • MD (Managers—divisional)
  • SSP (Support Staff—professional)
  • SSNP (Support Staff—non-professional)

Looking at higher ed this way, we can explore national patterns of population growth and decline. For instance, the S group has grown enormously, while the M group is relatively stable. The other two groups are more complicated, because their halves don’t behave the same way.

For the F group (faculty), the FTT has been relatively flat, while the FNTT has grown even faster than students. The surprise, and a related fact, is that the SSP’s have grown wildly, while the SSNP’s have been cut nearly in half. The professional support staff, the directors and coordinators and holders of the plaid college, are the largest-growth area of college staffing. Their non-professional colleagues in clerical, facilities, and foodservice have been decimated, by technology and by outsourcing (and by the willingness of the SSP’s to work crazy hours instead of insisting that they hire clerical and technical support).

One of the things I hope I can foster with this project is a broader conversation about whom colleges should hire, and why. Given a particular college, its specific mission, and its specific mix of students, what’s its optimal mix of staffing? How many directors are too many? How many TT faculty constitute a minimum threshold for serious collegiate life? And where did all the secretaries and groundskeepers go?