After Awful Tragedies,
The Campus Bureaucracy Expands


The Boston Herald is a scrappy, politically conservative
tabloid that normally rants and rails against excessive regulations and good-for-nothing
government bureaucrats. Yet in an editorial on the Penn State child
molestations, titled “Keeping campuses safe,” the Herald called for a heavily expanded
bureaucratic response. It excoriated “the football program staff” of Penn State
who, quoting assertions in the Freeh Report, “had not been
trained in their Clery Act responsibilities and most had never heard of the
Clery Act,” a 1990 federal statute requiring colleges and universities to
report crimes that happen on or near their campuses. It is named for Jeanne
Clery, a Lehigh University freshman raped and murdered in her dorm in 1986.

Statutes named after victims of rare but spectacularly awful crimes are
especially likely to be overkill laws that cause unnecessary added bureaucracy and
dismal unforeseen consequences. Yet here was the Herald, which knows better, on the side of more regulation
when it came to universities. The army of advocates for increased
administration in higher education’s already bloated bureaucracies has landed
on the Penn State scandal with considerable gusto. Self-interest motivates many
of those who argue for more regulations and increased numbers of administrators
at Penn State, including the increased use of professionals who provide
“training” for campus student life administrators. 

Lawyers Board the
Gravy Train Too

The National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM) is one
such company, which universities hire to assess campus threats, including students who wear hoodies. NCHERM
Managing Partner Brett Sokolow took
the Sandusky scandal as an opportunity to express that he “sees the recent scandals at Penn State and
Syracuse as emblematic of failures at the highest levels to embrace and
implement risk management institutionally.” Just over the horizon from ‘institutionalized
risk management’ are increased campus bureaucracy and a new army of

The lawyers have jumped on the gravy train as well, arguing for the need
for more in-house campus attorneys to prevent future scandals. Indeed, the
website opined in a November 2011 essay titled “What if Penn States had in-house counsel in
” that “events might have turned out differently and better for
everyone involved” if Penn State had not waited until January 2010 to institute
an Office of General Counsel.

Even the chairwoman of Penn State’s board, Karen B. Peetz, at a news
conference held shortly after the conviction of Sandusky and the release of the
Freeh Report, stated a similarly stark take-away from her experience. “We
should have been risk managers in a more active way,” Peetz said.

Now let’s just wait a minute. An
army of lawyers and administrators who handle “risk” should not be necessary to
assure that action be taken when the football coach is told that one of his
assistants is raping young boys in the locker room shower. Anyone with any sort
of functioning moral compass and sense of responsibility and professionalism
would have known of his duty to put a stop to Sandusky’s rampage. This is not
the kind of stuff that should require training sessions and enlarged

Let’s Have No

But morality, not to mention common sense, plays little part in the
functioning of our modern universities. The role of academic administrators
these days – and this has been true for much of the past 25 years – is to
prevent criticism of the institution. This has resulted in the growth of huge
public relations infrastructures that team up with fund-raising (“development”)
infrastructures. General Counsels have taken charge of much that goes on at the
modern university. At their order, universities operate largely on this theory
of “risk reduction” – that is to say, things are done not because they are
right, nor because they enhance the institution’s educational or scholarly
missions. Instead, they are done to protect the institution’s reputation, to
protect the jobs of the administrators (for whom general counsel works), to
keep the institution from losing government funds, and to keep the institution
from getting sued. Truth, principle, and the education and welfare of young
people have little to do with it.

And campus administrations just keep expanding, even in difficult
economic times. Today, administrators outnumber full-time faculty
on campus. Forty years ago, there were roughly twice as many professors as
administrators and staffers. Since then, the number of professors has increased
by slightly more than 50%–roughly equivalent to growth in student
enrollments–while the numbers of administrators and administrative staffers
have increased by a whopping 85 and 240 percent, respectively. These are
extraordinary developments that say much about the nature of our institutions
of higher education today.

The modern administrative university is a business machine without a soul.
It is an administrative fiefdom that operates outside of the sights and controls of its
governing boards
or its alumni, with the primary goal of avoiding criticism.
This is what allowed, even encouraged, Penn State administrators to do all that
they could to prevent knowledge of reports of Sandusky’s ventures from reaching
the light of day. (Can a serious claim be devised that says that Penn State
administrators, given the reports coming in, had no idea what was happening?) This
phenomenon also helps explain the otherwise inexplicable proliferation of speech codes on our
. Good PR requires restrictions of academic freedom so that
reports of offended students do not mar the bucolic image of the campus. And
Penn State does not stand alone here.

I’ve been dealing with colleges and universities since the start of my
legal career in 1967. I’ve seen these structural changes begin to take place in
the mid-1980s, some of which I’ve written about in The
Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses

(co-authored with Alan Charles Kors and published in 1998). Penn State is just
the tip of the iceberg. It happens that a pedophilia scandal was covered up by
Penn State’s administrators; Lord only knows what’s being covered up at
campuses elsewhere in order to protect the fiefdoms of administrators.

The Penn State scandal should be a wake-up call to our nation’s
universities, not to institutionalize more vigilant Clery Act compliance, not
to hire more administrators, not to increase the frequency of risk assessment
seminars, but to undo the tyranny of the toxic campus cultures that administrators
have created with the quiet acquiescence of trustees. The problem is not the
lack of lawyers, and risk reduction consultants. It’s the fatally decrepit
culture that infects our universities nationwide.


  • Harvey Silverglate

    Harvey Silverglate, a Boston criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer and writer, is the co-founder of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education ( He co-authored The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses.

One thought on “After Awful Tragedies,
The Campus Bureaucracy Expands”

  1. In the rush to judgement on Penn State (not Sandusky but everything else), the driving force is the Freeh report. After reading the report, there are enoughhole to drive several holes through it.
    It is largely a prosecution indictment that came to foregone conclusions about who other than Sandusky did what and why. The problem is that no one was worn to tell the truth and could say anything they wanted. There was no indepth examinations into what comments meant. For example, the email from Vicky Triponey was taken as proof Paterno tried circumvent the universities disciplinary policies. There’s no follow up from anyone as to what was the results of her email. Before anyone makes wholesale changes to anything let’s wait until the trials of Curley, Schultz and probably Spanier to see what actually happened; then make appropriate changes.

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