Expense Account

The Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS, a term that maybe should have been in the first book) collects sixteen bajillion data points per year on every college in the US, from enrollment to crime. It takes forever for schools to complete, and like accreditation, puts an inverse burden on schools by resources: MIT, with its thousands of employees and billions of dollars, has the same reporting burden as Mount Ida College.

One area of data collection is an itemized budget, not in any categories that the colleges would themselves recognize (salaries, lab materials, travel, and the like) but rather in categories that require a whole other layer of understanding. They are (with deeply abbreviated definitions):

  • Instruction: “…expenses of the colleges, schools, departments, and other instructional divisions of the institution and expenses for departmental research and public service that are not separately budgeted. Includes general academic instruction, occupational and vocational instruction, community education, preparatory and adult basic education, and regular, special, and extension sessions. Also includes expenses for both credit and non-credit activities.”
  • Research: “… expenses for activities specifically organized to produce research outcomes and commissioned by an agency either external to the institution or separately budgeted by an organizational unit within the institution. The category includes institutes and research centers, and individual and project research.”
  • Student Services: “… expenses for admissions, registrar activities, and activities whose primary purpose is to contribute to students emotional and physical well-being and to their intellectual, cultural, and social development outside the context of the formal instructional program. Examples include student activities, cultural events, student newspapers, intramural athletics, student organizations, supplemental instruction outside the normal administration, and student records. Intercollegiate athletics and student health services may also be included except when operated as self-supporting auxiliary enterprises.”
  • Public service: “… expenses for activities established primarily to provide non-instructional services beneficial to individuals and groups external to the institution. Examples are conferences, institutes, general advisory service, reference bureaus, and similar services provided to particular sectors of the community. This function includes expenses for community services, cooperative extension services, and public broadcasting services.”
  • Institutional support: “… expenses for the day-to-day operational support of the institution. Includes expenses for general administrative services, central executive-level activities concerned with management and long range planning, legal and fiscal operations, space management, employee personnel and records, logistical services such as purchasing and printing, and public relations and development.”
  • Academic support: “… expenses of activities and services that support the institution’s primary missions of instruction, research, and public service. It includes the retention, preservation, and display of educational materials (for example, libraries, museums, and galleries); organized activities that provide support services to the academic functions of the institution (such as a demonstration school associated with a college of education or veterinary and dental clinics if their primary purpose is to support the instructional program); media such as audiovisual services; academic administration (including academic deans but not department chairpersons); and formally organized and separately budgeted academic personnel development and course and curriculum development expenses.”
  • Operation and maintenance of plant: “… expenses for operations established to provide service and maintenance related to campus grounds and facilities used for educational and general purposes. Specific expenses include utilities, fire protection, property insurance, and similar items.”

So there’s our seven categories. Our friends at the American Institute of Research and their Delta Cost Project have looked at these categories to see which have increased in proportion in the past decade (2001 to 2011… it takes a while to do the analysis). And the results are interesting and a little surprising. First, the data table. Data are expressed in expenditure per thousand students, constant 2011 dollars spending-table

First thing to notice is that it’s good being rich. The PrR (Private Research Universities, Harvard and Duke and Stanford and the like) have been able to increase spending on everything. On the other end of the scale, public community colleges (PuCC) have had cutbacks everywhere, usually pretty substantial. They’ve had a 55% increase in research spending, but the baseline was pretty low. When you used to spend two bucks, three dollars is a fifty percent increase…

Second, the public schools (the first four categories, all beginning with Pu) are all in significant states of deferred maintenance. In every case, spending on operation and maintenance of physical environment has dropped by a meaningful amount. The private schools are keeping up appearances, but the public schools are falling apart.

Third, spending on Student Services has increased substantially in every institution type except public baccalaureate (PuB) and community colleges (PuCC). There’s a real attention to consumer satisfaction except at the lowest-level public institutions, since they all have to compete for their students. The little state colleges and community colleges are the most impacted by the commodity pricing of education (see the previous post for that), and nobody’s choosing them because of their amenities. The others are all fighting for a temporarily smaller number of undergraduates—the 18-year-old US population peaked in 2008, and is in a trough that won’t come back to those levels until the mid 2020s—and have to appeal to customers through a broader array of services.

Fourth, this focus on customer service is reflected in a greatly reduced attention to public service. If you’re inside the walls, you’re going to be taken care of, but there’s no money to spend on the great unwashed outside the moat. The town/gown divides are worse and worse, with colleges drawing up the gates and focusing internally.

Finally, private schools are spending more on instruction and on academic support than they had ten years before, while public institutions have seen a much smaller increase in instructional spending and generally a decrease in academic support.

There’s a lot of detail that the AIR report can’t get into, in part because the IPEDS data collection is so generalized. But it’s an interesting place to start as we consider why schools are moving more and more toward contingent instructors.

Impostor Syndrome

Every so often, people ask me if there are other terms I’d add now that the book’s been completed. Based on conversations I’ve had in the past few days, I’d say yes. Here’s one… In this case, one that might be the largest concept underlying the book, one that appears in other words throughout.

Impostor Syndrome. Well, you are an impostor, aren’t you? You clearly haven’t mastered everything in your discipline—there will always be someone waiting with a recent piece of research you don’t know about, a concept you don’t know, an important thinker you haven’t encountered. And teaching? Come on, who the hell ever let you get up in front of a classroom? You’re barely staying a chapter ahead of all these nineteen-year-olds, just wingin’ it and hopin’ for the best.

We have this notion of knowledge as sort of game-show fodder, where every moment might bring us an opportunity to hear the big wrong-answer buzzer and be sent away in shame. Especially for those who haven’t come from a princely upbringing and thus don’t have a native sense of ourselves as royals, we scuttle around within the castle, attempting simultaneously to show ourselves as worthy and to not show ourselves at all, to hide safely in the servant’s quarters.

I remember preparing for my dissertation defense, and thinking of half a hundred objections to the quality or the very conception of my research. In my imagination, they were all voiced by the same person, a self-important man who was indeed very smart but imagined himself to be an order of magnitude smarter than that, the personification of the word pedantic. (It all turned out fine, and I fooled the crowd once again.)

And you might think that you’d get past this, that twenty or thirty years inside is enough to become a naturalized citizen of the kingdom. I can assure you that it is not. Just as the identity of Vermonter is reserved for those with ancestors in the cemetery, the identity of scholar is reserved for those who bear it in their protein pairs. The rest of us are spies, forgers, double agents, practicing our accents and memorizing our backstories.

There is nothing objective about being a scholar, or a writer, or an artist. There is no 2016 PhD Finals, during which we and a competitor can be faced with paired challenges and demonstrate ourselves to be undeniably better than the rest. There is no QED at the end of the proof. We are, by nature, unfinished projects, unready for viewing.

I heard a radio interview with a restaurateur who had been wildly successful for over a dozen years, running a Hollywood hotspot where deals were done and beautiful people were seen. And he said that for the entirety of his time in the business, at the end of the day, he locked the door behind him, patted it lovingly, and said, “Let’s hope that people come to see us tomorrow.” And that’s the life of the scholar: no matter how much success we’ve had, for no matter how long, we have to put on our amulet, recite our incantation, and do the work that will keep us safely undercover for one more day.


Every so often, people ask me if there are other terms I’d add now that the book’s been completed. Based on conversations I’ve had in the past few days, I’d say yes. Here’s one…

Summer. The traditional model of school, at all levels, is that we went to class around Labor Day and finished around Memorial Day, and that we could do as we pleased in the summer. Beaches, summer jobs, research and writing… our time was ours to spend however we chose.

A whole culture arose around this agricultural model of school, in which summer chores were so demanding that families couldn’t afford to be without their least expensive workers—their children. And part of that culture, as it spilled over into higher education, was that summers were the time when we were free to do our research without the demands of teaching and departmental service.

This is not so often the case now. First, as we discussed in the entry for Contracts, an increasing number of academic jobs are now twelve-month positions, in which being on campus every day is the expectation. But even for those faculty with traditional nine-month or ten-month posts, summers are burdened in surprising ways. Conferences often occur during the summer, both for ease of scheduling and so that your family can come with you and pretend it’s a vacation. Professional societies are often busier during the summer, since that national or international service load is presumed to simply take the place of your on-campus service load.

But the big hindrance that I hear over and over is simply e-mail. Your college is a 24/365 enterprise, and expects that you will be as well. It takes a fierce discipline to be able to ignore the inbox for eight weeks or more, but if you cannot, then you will be at the emotional and logistical service of your chair and dean every single day.

A friend works at a campus whose union contract makes it inadmissible for an administrator to send an e-mail to a faculty member from May 20 through August 1. That’s a little bit rigid, but it’s way preferable to the constant whining demands of the inbox. If your own school isn’t quite that firm about things, you can simply put up an out-of-office message on your e-mail that says “I will be away, at work on my scholarly life, until August 1st.” Don’t promise that you’ll respond when you get back, because you’ll have 6,347 messages and it’ll take you all fall to get through them. In fact, the second line of the autoreply might be “Please contact me with any items of importance after that date.” Keep a personal e-mail account so your friends can find you, but don’t share it more broadly than you need to.

Your time is the most important resource you have, and you need to fence off some blocks of it for your own use. Summer is the block that supports scholarly life—don’t let it be eroded by the drippy faucet of managerial whimpering.