Forget MOOCs–Let’s Use MOOA

As colleges begin using massive open online courses (MOOC) to reduce faculty costs, a Johns Hopkins University professor has announced plans for MOOA (massive open online administrations). Dr. Benjamin Ginsberg, author of The Fall of the Faculty, says that many colleges and universities face the same administrative issues every day. By having one experienced group of administrators make decisions for hundreds of campuses simultaneously, MOOA would help address these problems expeditiously and economically. Since MOOA would allow colleges to dispense with most of their own administrators, it would generate substantial cost savings in higher education.

“Studies show that about 30 percent of the cost increases in higher education over the past twenty-five years have been the result of administrative growth,” Ginsberg noted. He suggested that MOOA can reverse this spending growth.  “Currently, hundreds, even thousands, of vice provosts and assistant deans attend the same meetings and undertake the same activities on campuses around the U.S. every day,” he said.  “Imagine the cost savings if one vice provost could make these decisions for hundreds of campuses.”

Asked if this “one size fits all” administrative concept was realistic given the diversity of problems faced by thousands of schools, Ginsberg noted that a “best practices” philosophy already leads administrators to blindly follow one another’s leads in such realms as planning, staffing, personnel issues, campus diversity, branding and, curriculum planning. The MOOA, said Ginsberg, would take “best practices” a step further and utilize it to realize substantial cost savings.

Ginsberg pointed to the realm of strategic planning. He said that thanks to to the best practices concept, hundreds of schools currently use virtually identical strategic plans. Despite the similarities, however, these plans cost each school hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to develop. The MOOA would formalize the already extant cooperation by developing one plan that could be used by all colleges. Ginsberg estimates that had the MOOA planning concept been in use over the past ten years, schools would have saved more than a half billion dollars.  “One way to look at it,” he said, “Is that through their tuitions students paid about $500 million for strategic planning that might have been used for curricular development or other educational purposes.”  The MOOA plan, he declared, would end such wasteful duplication.

According to Ginsberg, another place where the MOOA concept is immediately relevant is “branding.”  Following contemporary business models, hundreds of schools pay consulting firms hundreds of thousands of dollars to help them improve their “brand” identities. The results of these expensive individual efforts often seem quite similar. For example, after a major and costly rebranding effort, the University of Chicago School of Medicine declared that its brand would be “University of Chicago Medicine.” After working with consultants, the Johns Hopkins Medical School decided that its brand would be “Johns Hopkins Medicine.” And, the University of Pennsylvania Medical School was helped by its consultants to coin the brand, “Penn Medicine.” A MOOA might have identified a brand that all medical schools would be happy to use, such as “[School’s Name] Medicine.”

Ginsberg also suggested that the “best practices” philosophy has led administrators at many schools to develop similar tasks and projects. At his own university, administrators created a “committee on traditions” to rediscover forgotten school traditions or, if necessary, to invent new ones. Similar committees had also been created by administrators on a number of other campuses including Emory, Duke, Middlebury, and Bowling Green.  “Interestingly,” said Ginsberg, “administrators meeting on dozens of campuses have uncovered or devised very similar traditions.” Substituting one MOOA “committee on traditions” for the dozens, perhaps hundreds of such committees would generate significant savings.

Ginsberg has named his MOOA “Administeria,” and plans to begin operations in early 2014.  He admits that widespread use of MOOAs could result in substantial unemployment among college bureaucrats. However, he noted that their skill sets make them qualified for work in such burgeoning industries as retail sales, hospitality, food services, event planning, and horticultural design.


  • Benjamin Ginsberg

    Benjamin Ginsberg is the David Bernstein Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Hopkins Center for Advanced Governmental Studies in Washington, DC.

    View all posts

51 thoughts on “Forget MOOCs–Let’s Use MOOA

  1. Except that the administrators who make the decisions about MOOCs come from the ranks of the tenured faculty. They are not the administrators who came from and could return to “work in such burgeoning industries as retail sales, hospitality, food services, event planning, and horticultural design.”
    Check your privilege, Professor Ginsberg.

  2. leave sports alone please, it is part of the North American model for better rather than worse. however, once they will have cut down on admin. they will also cut down on profs, particularly in humanities–for sure. As for rebranding universities and programs,redesigning logo etc…
    it is not only a waste of time, but it is counterproductive as well, particularly in well established programs with good reputation.

  3. Those who can’t do teach.
    Those who can’t teach, teach gym.
    Those who can’t teach gym go back to grad school and become educators.

  4. This is a written cartoon and a total disregard for the committed work administrators do. Colleges and universities are large enterprises for one of the most important areas of people’s lives. This kind of snarkiness continues to undervalue those who work in administration for small compensation compared to those who run similar sized companies and budgets.
    Let’s continue to pay musicians, athletes, bankers, et al. millions and keep pounding down the value of educators who run these “institutions” so that the American public can further buy in to concept of mediocrity that this kind of writing entertains. Too bad.

  5. Unfortunately in my building (on a large campus), the only employees usually present are the administrators. Halls and offices are usually empty of prof/instructors and many of the LMS functions that you would think would be overlooked by the prof/instructors are not. Instead, admin handle many of the issues that ‘teachers’ once did. One professor even stated that they don’t see why they have to log in everyday to their online class to see what is going on. They should just be notified if there is a problem on their phone. Really? And everyone wonders why administrator positions have risen . . .faculty rely on administrators to do everything, even their job.

  6. Tyler,
    I do not know Prof. Baron, but I suspect he really does know best. Or at least knows better than to be a mere Transmitter. Where do you suppose the authority to teach actually resides? It is in the author. Prof. Baron’s comment does not suggest arrogance and narrow-mindedness, so much as it does confidence in his own teaching authority.
    I’d sit in his lectures, knowing that at least there is the chance that something interesting and perhaps even insightful might accidentally happen. In the world of learning objective-aligned curricula, such accidents are forbidden.
    You insinuate that there are institutions out there doing a *good* job of aligning learning objectives with the curriculum. Name one, and please explain what constitutes doing that well.

  7. Richard Baron states, “But any sensible professor ignores such documentation, which has only been invented to satisfy the bureaucracy, and teaches whatever he or she regards as sensible….”
    Wow. Just wow. So, Prof. Baron you’ve decided not to even hide your childish contempt for, well, everything? “I’ll teach what I want.” Why should learning outcomes even be something to discuss when Prof. Baron knows best?
    Perhaps documenting and trying to measure and align student learning objectives with the curriculum is done poorly at your institution (or in throughout England), but you must recognize how arrogant and narrow-minded your comment is, right?

  8. There is some debate in the comments about whether this is a joke. I reckon that it both is and is not. There really are savings to be made. My evidence is experience in England, where local authorities (which are responsible for things like road repairs, trash collection, public libraries, and social housing – I don’t know what the US equivalent of these authorities would be) have found they can make considerable savings by merging a lot of administrative functions with those of neighbouring authorities.
    It might seem intolerable to standardize learning outcomes. Different professors teach different things, in different ways. But any sensible professor ignores such documentation, which has only been invented to satisfy the bureaucracy, and teaches whatever he or she regards as sensible, so the documentation might as well be standardized.

  9. Just as Ginsberg’s book, Fall of the Faculty, was a series of snarky exaggerations to “illustrate a point, so is this article. He’s done the research, he understands the problem. Why can’t he present this in a sober, thoughtful manner? His “cleverness” continually betrays his purpose.

  10. I can think of numerous departments that could stand “restructuring upwards.”
    It is inevitable that someone will take this seriously enough to develop a sound business model. Eliminating professors through MOOCs is attacking the escalating cost of higher education from the most complex and least understood end first. In view of Ginsberg’s work, the recent shift toward a nuanced, skeptical response to MOOCs among some senior academic administrators has to be seen as a cynical effort to divert attention away from their overwhelming contribution to the cost of college. Long before the Professor Bot makes cut-rate assembly-line automated Newton-level intellects possible, armies of Admin Bots will have stimulated vigorous competition in the fast food labor market market among displaced administrators.
    I would love to be a fly on the wall at the closed meetings, to which faculty and administrators are pointedly not invited, where MOOAs are enthusiastically adopted by university trustees.

  11. It should be a legal requirement that Tertiary Institutions return the greater part of their financial surpluses into Mainstream Education and not sit on them like obese territorial cats gobbling up land so the Campus spreads out like an great unplanned city with Managements which pay themselves huge salaries and act like Lords, while Pre, Primary and High schools go unresourced and ordinary Children are disadvantaged and discouraged.

  12. Yikes — not very funny, not very literary, not very much of anything. Stick to the Fall of the Faculty.
    Young and old in this country are facing lock downs on our futures. We are an underdeveloping nation, as Manfred Max-Neef declares.
    This is an example of Ginsberg, who I suspect is not one of the 80 percent in the USA who control, whoops, 7 percent of all wealth. Maybe he’s not a One percenter, that class that controls 40 percent of wealth, but I’d bet he weighs in the 19 percent class — having a collective 53 percent of all wealth.
    We need different voices and this continual Jon Stewart ha-ha high school follies yammering is a joke, and, not funny, not a good spoof, and, really, this is no Yes Men level sort of play on words, play on ideas.
    Finally, Ginsberg already knows that the ADMIN class and others are guns for hire, not treated as part of long-range Company Men/Women ethos, and, well, the point of a university or college is to KEEP people there as a team, as a spiritual core, as fabric for the community. So, losing even overpaid dweebs to some central command is not funny or fun for students and floundering faculty at all.

  13. A brilliant tongue in cheek spoof on what administrators (let’s call it by its real name: managerialism) are doing to academia.
    However, don’t give them any ideas!!
    The real answer to the increasing management cast and its swallowing up of college budgets is not to outsource management: it is to cut down on the ‘tasks’ and invented roles that this bureaucracy (like any bureaucracy) creates for itself.
    It is also for academics to wrest back control of governance of universities (which has been swamped by ‘management’ of universities).
    But if you do get it off the ground, I’ll buy shares!

  14. Regarding the comment by Jonathan Ablard, on June 17, 2013 3:52 PM.
    It’s quite obvious that we should put Mr. Ablard in charge of…well…in charge of almost anything I can think of!
    In a single, online comment, Mr. Albard has exposed the utter nonsense of how the all-knowing yet doing-nothing powers that be drain the life-blood out of universities; i.e., the college teachers that, you know…what’s the word I’m looking for…oh, yes: teach!

  15. If it were not for the seriousness of the issue I would wonder if you were a professor of communication specializing in comedy.

  16. I am hoping Ginsberg’s MOOA proposal will not be categorized as satire.
    In the video links below, Langdon Winner’s Automatic Professor Machine idea, intended as satire, is apparently no longer thought of as satire.
    Part 1
    Part 2
    Thank you Dr. Ginsberg for pointing true what is perhaps the last option for the last fallen faculty. Unfortunately, after an administrator’s salary crosses a certain threshold, the recognition of satire in their own decisions is no longer an option since their salary proves to themselves and to the public that they should be taken seriously.

  17. One place to begin implementation would be with a quick survey of university parking lots: On the UMass Dartmouth campus (yes–the same place where failing almost every class still doesn’t result in expulsion until you also kill or injure over 200 people at the Boston Marathon) 14 spaces are allocated to people with the title “Chancellor.” And that doesn’t include the plethora of deans and sub-deans required to administer 9,000 students–including ones enrolled in a newly-acquired, non-accredited law school.

  18. Has anyone noticed that the essay, by Benjamin Ginsberg, is written _about_ an essay written by Benjamin Ginsberg, so that the author describes himself, writing in the third person? Does this give some of those who have taken the essay seriously a clue that this _cannot_ be taken straightforwardly? Let alone the concluding paragraph, which echoes the strategy of “A Modest Proposal.”
    I did have a faculty colleague send this to the administration today as a serious recommendation. This suggests to me something about my colleague’s lack of perspective and discernment.

  19. Finally a good idea. Let’s get rid of the non-educators that are bleeding money from education so badly that they think we should rid colleges of faculty and learning, instead of the new parasitic administrative class.

  20. Another place where the MOOA is applicable is in “learning outcomes,” which I understand many campuses are developing as part of their “best practices” philosophy.

  21. How about MOOAthletics? Each state or region could be represented by a single BCS-level intercollegiate athletic program. Then, through the miracle of ESPN and technology, the games could be broadcast to the fans of each BCS college. We could pay a cable fee (instead of General Fees of $600/year and more for our own local inferior college programs). The cable company will then share that revenue with ESPN, the NCAA, and the BCS colleges. As for the lesser programs: well, why waste time and money on Kent State when you can get your sports from Ohio State?

  22. I think Ben was being generous as to where some of the administrators in my division at Hopkins could find alternative employment. Burger King does have some quality control standards.

  23. UC Berkeley tried its hand at rebranding and the new UC icon was so distasteful and the outcry so great, the “Hello Kitty” image was dropped in two weeks of its introduction! Does this mean that all the mascots will also be the same so that costume reproduction can be outsourced?

  24. Let’s not forget a fall-back position and I thank Dr. Ginsberg for inspiring thus.
    Should it be too difficult to persuade Board of Trustees that MOOAs are beneficial, perhaps another cost-savings approach would appeal, that of the Adjunct Massive Open Online Administrators (A-MOOAs) model.
    In this instance, an A-MOOAs would be hired, provisionally. A-MOOAs wwould be scheduled to show up the first week of the semester with work product in hand for a meeting (online or not, okay). These meetings would span about 2.5 hours each week of the semester. A-MOOAs would be paid for their 2.5 hours online (or on campus). The time spent creating those work products, and coordinating with other A-MOOAs, would not be compensated.
    In this proposal, A-MOOAs would be contracted for each semester and await their rehiring notice (or not) the day before the semester begins. This model predicts that Boards of Trustees would realize cost-savings so large that massive hiring of full-time non- A-MOOA faculty would result.

  25. Near the end of the very impressive resume for the president of the University of Redlands is a paragraph explaining that one of his accomplishments is the “Creation of the first-ever mission statement for the University of Rochester in 161 years” and explaining that this “mission statement of only 10 words … serves as the rhetorical basis for a comprehensive campaign: ‘ Learn, Discover, Heal, Create — And Make the World Ever Better.'”
    Two observations. (1) I think we may have found the mission statement an MOOA could indeed propose to every university.
    (2) So the University of Rochester was successful for 160 years without a mission statement?

  26. Another advantage it the MOOA initiative is that the ex- administrators, assuming that they are qualified, can return in droves to their institutions’ classrooms, thereby doing wonders for the student / faculty ratio.

  27. Sir, you are a genius. I work in the water/utility industry in a country I will not mention. Operational staff and engineers are made redundant or shifted over to contractors, with worse pension plans, to make room for an ever expanding asset management department, who then number-crunches on Excel spreadsheets and databases the whole day.
    This is expensively repeated across the country in an effort to actually save money, while the day-to-day practical job of running plants and keeping them in tip-top condition goes undone.
    It is a management-gone-crazy world, that needs to be straightened up, and your idea would work beautifully.
    And thank you for making me smile!

  28. This will cut down on those faculty drinking parties (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf). What a shame! Fewer vendettas!

  29. Of course, a part of the MOOA plan would be MOOCs. So we would have the best of both worlds. Let’s face it: as far as I can tell, higher education is massively inefficient in all quarters. There are a lot of people at universities – from administrators to professors – that need to be repurposed into retail sales or horticultural design.

  30. Based on the article’s last sentence alone, I’m willing to bet his favorite movie is “Ghostbusters.” If his own University administration reads this, Dr. Ginsberg might need to take up ghostbusting himself!

  31. The fatboys control everything, and will continue to lavish themselves with perks and outsized salaries.

  32. Great idea!
    Let’s apply it to local school systems, too, where administrators often are classroom escapees, hungry for larger salaries, or incompetent teachers with tenure who are moved to administrative positions to prevent the incompetence from ruining the students.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *