budget-thumb.png Inputs to our "production process" include faculty FTE, faculty time, staff time, space, student attention, and the like. Outputs include teaching, advising, planning, managing, etc. This project involves creating a system for institutional self-awareness around the allocation of these resources.


It is amusing sometimes to watch college and university managers engaged in "budgeting." At least in the small college context it rarely amounts to much more than small changes at the margin that create extreme levels of conflict and very little substantive change.

One reason, I think, is that the managers do not, in general, really understand the resources they are budgeting and what the organization is producing. And the relationship between these two is beyond rocket science in most cases.

One could argue that the problem is that presidents and deans and provosts and the like simply don't have a good grasp on what people do all day and how that ends up producing the thing that gets sold to parents and donors and employers. And so, even when they dress it up in fancy terms, all they end up budgeting is dollars to departments.

People and Their Time Not Database Categories and Their Amounts

Higher education produces almost nothing tangible. There is no loading dock from which product is shipped, no issue which hits the newstands each morning, no finished structure that can be put on the market. There are analogs to each of these, of course, and we make lame attempts to quantize things (counting up number of degrees produced or credit hours or publications), but the analogies feel stretched.

Things that Scale and Things that Don't

A big concern in the worlds of commerce, manufacturing, and communication is "scaling." In general terms this is the question of whether what you can figure out how to do for 10 clients you can also figure out how to do for 10,000. In most cases, some parts of one's operation scale favorably (the marginal cost goes down), some scale nicely (the effects of increasing scale do not cripple you), some stepwise (it's all fine up to 500 but then suddenly costs jump), some nastily (growth beyond a certain point gums up the works and shuts you down).

When making changes to curriculum, requirements, rules, procedures, etc. it is important to examine the changes with respect to scaling. What will the impact be when the change applies to all students? What happens if the program is wildly popular? What will the impact be on each faculty member when the new policy goes into place?

Penny-Wise and Pound Foolish as a Standard Operating Principle

One of the most commonly annoying practices in higher education is the decision to save money on a clerical task by transferring it to faculty and then laying off or re-assigning a staff employee. Suppose there is some process that faculty members are currently not involved in; it is handled by a $45,000 per year staff member. Then a genius comes along and buys some software that allows students to go to their advisor with the same issue and have the advisor go online and enter the appropriate information. On average advisors have 10 advisees, say, and each of them needs this service once per semester. All told it takes one half hour of faculty work each time (meeting with student, remembering how to use the software, etc.). That's 1000 students times a half hour per semester. Faculty time is worth on average something like $65. This change has moved a task from a place where it cost under $45,000 per year (assuming the staff member did other things) to a place where it costs $65,000 per year. And, assuming faculty were fully employed before the change, something that had been considered valuable is either no longer being done or is now being done on unpaid overtime.

Example Calculations and Considerations

Suppose your institution has 100 full time faculty members and that the "profile" for faculty is 70:10:20 (70% teaching, 10% service, and 20% research) and that advising is included under teaching. During term time you have 100 persons * 0.1 * 40 hours/week = 400 person-hours/week for service. How will we allocate it?1

A 2 hour faculty meeting absorbs about 50% of the week's available resource.
A 1 hour committee meeting with 6 faculty members costs 6-10 hours considering coming and going and running over.

Investment in Committee Work

Group # Meetings # Faculty Hours Extra Total
Faculty Meetings 4 100 2 800
Division Meetings 4 100 2 800
Departments 2 100 1 200
Department & Program Heads W/ Provost Meetings 4 20 1 80
Faculty Executive Committee Meetings 6 9 2 108
Educational Policies Subcommittee Of The Faculty Executive Committee Meetings 6 5 1 30
Graduate Council Meetings 3 16 1 48
Academic Standing Committee Meetings 12 5 1.5 90
Admission And Enrollment Management Committee Meetings 4 4 1.5 24
Appointment, Promotion, And Tenure Committee 12 5 1 4 300
Faculty Development Committee 3 5 1 15
Campus Space Issues Committee 1 1 1 1
Academic Computing And Technology Advisory Committee 4 5 1 20
Assessment Committee 7 7 1 49
Academic Integrity And Conduct Hearing Board 1 3 1 3
Diversity And Social Justice Committee 3 12 1 36
Human Subjects Review Committee 2 3 1 6 42
Institutional Animal Care And Use Committee (Iacuc) 1 4 1 4
International Studies/Study Abroad Committee 1 11 1 11
Retirement Planning Committee 2 3 1 6
Sustainability Committee 1 1 1 1
Undergraduate Research Committee 2 4 1 4 40
Course Credit Task Force 4 6 1 24
Curricular Transformation Task Force 6 11 1 66
Faculty Governance Task Force 4 9 1 36
Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Task Force 2 6 1 12
Biochemistry And Molecular Biology Program Committee 1 4 1 4
Bio-Psychology Program Committee 1 3 1 3
Environmental Science Program Committee 1 4 1 4
Environmental Studies Program Committee 1 4 1 4
Institute For Civic Leadership Steering Committee 1 2 1 2
Interdisciplinary Computer Science Advisory Committee 1 6 1 6
Intermedia Arts Program Committee 1 5 1 5
Nursing Program Advisory Committee 1 3 1 3
Political, Legal, And Economic Analysis Program Advisory Committee 1 6 1 6
Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program Committee 1 4 1 4
Queer Studies Advisory Committee 1 4 1 4
Biology (Plant Ecology)Faculty Search Committee 6 6 1 36
Educational Leadership Faculty Search Committee 6 5 1 30
Studio Art (Painting) Faculty Search Committee 6 4 1 24
2,981 ~$193,765 per semester

See Also

Better Meetings Initiative"