- Several colleges and universities faced accusations of bloat and questionable hiring practices this week, according to The Chronicle for Higher Education. Northern Illinois University was found to have paid five consultants $1 million in the past two years, circumventing hiring rules by utilizing standards applied to part-time employees.
- Board of Trustees Chairman John R. Butler announced that the job classification offered to the consultants had been discontinued, but the news comes about a month after President Douglas Baker announced the school would be laying off employees and temporarily forgoing maintenance to help close an expected $35 million shortfall.
- The University of California announced it will no longer pay for dinners and parties put on by the school’s Board of Regents after the school was found to have reimbursed the board $225,000 for parties thrown since 2012, one of which recently came shortly after a student protest regarding a tuition increase.
With budgets tightening at many colleges due to declining enrollment and revenue, institutions must be all the more careful to avoid instances of waste — even if the mistakes are inadvertent — because the aftermath could mean a blow to the school’s reputation in the public.
Consistent communication between college presidents, staff and students is a must. College presidents reported that they are often not the first to learn of an on-campus controversy, and it is more difficult to control the message in a crisis’ aftermath. In the case of corruption or bloat, higher education leaders need to have garnered an authenticity of leadership so as not to lose the confidence of a campus community.
A recent editorial for The Oberlin Review, for example, questioned if several new administrative hires were actually going to help solve concerns about diversity on campus, with the board writing that the question “is not so much about whether achieving greater diversity is imperative in higher education — it is — but rather: Does administrative bloat and the addition of positions with fancy titles actually prove effective at the end of the day?”
Often overlooked amid conversations around corruption and bloat is the simple issue of awareness around the optics of spending decisions. The University of California's reimbursements for Board of Regents parties, for example, might not necessarily constitute corruption so much as poor decision-making in light of ongoing access and affordability concerns. At a time when budget austerity is leaving institutions with few choices beyond asking students to spend more, it can be difficult to justify lavish parties for top brass.