ANALYSIS: Penn State budget prioritizes administrative glut over teachers

Penn State has been struggling ‘for several years to address salary inequities’ for non-tenured English faculty while simultaneously increasing its diversity bureaucracy.

A key provision in the strategic plan of the university president, is to “adapt [the budget] model to support institutional leadership needs,” including expanding Penn State’s DEIB capacities.

Adjunct and non-tenure track English faculty at Pennsylvania State University argue that they are significantly underpaid.

This development is part of a larger academic trend in which large universities devalue teaching and prioritize top-heavy bureaucracies, especially related to diversity initiatives.

Non-tenure track faculty, also known as teaching faculty, in Penn State’s English Department earn within the range of $35,000 and $42,500, as reported by Spotlight PA, which is a minimum of $1,800 less than the national average for English faculty of the same rank.

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By comparison, the median income for State College Borough is $43,015.

“Efforts have been underway for several years to address salary inequities in the [English Department],” the director of university public relations, Wyatt DuBois, told Spotlight PA. DuBois cites budgetary constraints, however, as the reason why promises of pay increases have fallen through.

Part of the reason for cutting teaching costs at the expense of potential quality is the need to maintain expensive administrative bureaucracies, which happens at many large research institutions.

From 2012 to 2018, for example, a study from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that non-instructional and administrative spending rose by 48% while instructional spending only rose by 17%, as reported by Campus Reform.

Penn State is no different.

The 2022-2023 operating budget for Penn State consisted of $7.7 billion, over $242 million of which comes from taxpayers. Included in this budget was a 2.5% salary increase for most faculty positions to address inflation, contributing to the school’s $70 million deficit.

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A key provision in the strategic plan of the university president, Neeli Bendapudi, is to “adapt [the budget] model to support institutional leadership needs,” which includes expanding Penn State’s diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) capacities.

This involves not only “diversifying Penn State’s faculty across all ranks and tracks” but also analyzing current DEIB initiatives and creating metrics to measure their progress.

Neither pay gaps between tenure and non-tenure track faculty nor the discrepancy between instructional and administrative spending were addressed in the president’s vision statement.

Campus Reform Higher Education Fellow Tim Furnish calls the problem of spending on DEI bureaucracies while skimping on teaching faculty expenses “adjunctivitus.”

Speaking from his personal experience, Furnish explains that the drawbacks of adjunct academic appointments “include low pay, few to no benefits, general exclusion from campus life, and onerous course loads.”

Furnish contends that “[s]tudents would be much better served” with a cohesive full-time teaching faculty that is able to cultivate meaningful mentor relationships with its student body over the long term.

“Otherwise,” Furnish reasons, sacrificing educational quality “will continue to be the price university officials are willing to pay in order to keep funding the myopia of DEI on their campuses.”

Campus Reform has contacted Penn State with request for comment, and this story will be updated accordingly.

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter.

Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.