More Employees Than Students at Stanford: Give Each Student a Concierge!

I recently read in the Wall Street Journal that Stanford University had more administrative staff and faculty than it did students. Specifically, there were 15,750 administrators, 2,288 faculty members, and 16,937 students. The paid help of 18,038 (administrators plus faculty) outnumbered the customers (students) by 1,101. That gave me an idea for a stunning administrative reorganization: give each student a paid concierge—an academic butler, if you will—to help navigate the pain of collegiate living in Palo Alto.

Stanford could become our first Concierge University. After all, it is all so stressful studying at Stanford, where the emotionally fragile student body often has to hear words that disturb them (more about that later). Some students want support dogs to comfort them, but Stanford could go even further and give everyone a support person!

In the late 1960s, when this superannuated writer was a young assistant professor, my university had approximately 16,937 students too. We had maybe 500 administrators and white-collar support personnel, 800 faculty members, and a few hundred blue-collar employees (custodians, cafeteria workers, groundskeepers, etc.). All told, we probably had around 1,800 employees. Why does Stanford University need approximately ten times as many employees as Ohio University did over half a century ago?

Stanford leadership would no doubt scoff and say, “Stanford is a great research institution, and teaching predominantly undergraduate students [what Ohio University did in the late 1960s, and still does] is a tiny part of what we do. We are on the cutting edge of modern research, we have vast graduate and professional programs, and we run a prominent medical center serving thousands weekly.” And that is true—so true, in fact, that a prominent Stanford economics professor once told me that he sent his own son to the Claremont Colleges rather than Stanford because Stanford neglected its undergraduates and regarded them as necessary cash cows, not the raison d’etre for Leland Stanford Junior University.

The organizational chart for Stanford’s Office of the President lists fourteen high-level support persons, including eight with the title “Vice President.” But exploring further, the vice presidents have other vice presidents under them. For example, Martin Shell, Vice President and Chief External Relations Officer, has a “Vice President for Development,” a “Vice President for Communications,” and a “Vice President for Government Affairs” working for him. Patrick Dunkley, Vice Provost for Institutional Equity, Access and Community, has a “Director for Positive Sexuality” who “aims to transform the cultural conversation to more fundamentally level-up on both the challenges and possibilities of sexuality”—whatever “fundamentally level-up” means. This sounds like expensive gobbledygook to me. And why do universities even have “sexuality” administrators, especially in a school that has 46 history professors, none of whom teaches a basic survey course in Western Civilization?

[Related: “Universities: Should They Be Taxed or Subsidized?”]

Some Stanford administrators claim to help solve the problems of their students, of course. For example, there is the university’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative, which tries to excise from the eyes and ears of Stanford students words that are offensive to some members of the university community. For example, it is allegedly hurtful for a native-born student to say, “I am an American.” Why? Because, besides the United States, there are over 30 other nations in the Americas, and citizens of all those nations are in some sense “American.” So, when a student from the U.S. says, “I am an American,” he might offend a peer from, say, Paraguay, who thinks of herself as “American.” And any surname with an “son” ending is clearly sexist—a problem that, apparently, did not occur to Thomas Jefferson (oops! Jefferchild) or Woodrow Wilson (sorry, Woodchild). Think of the students whose self-esteem might be hurt by this hurtful language! I have no idea how many administrative staff were involved in this woke exercise, but if the number exceeded zero, it was too many.

One might say, “Stanford is a private school, and what it does with its money is none of your business.” But is that really true? In what sense is Stanford more “private” than nearby California State University, East Bay? Which university receives more taxpayer dollars from the federal government per student? Are students at Stanford eligible to receive Pell Grants or federal student loans, or are professors allowed to take grants from the National Science Foundation? Do Stanford donors get big federal tax breaks for their gifts to the school? Does the Stanford endowment pay capital gains or income taxes on its transactions like ordinary citizens? I think not. I suspect that, on a per-student basis, far more subsidies go to Stanford than to Cal State East Bay.

We are a nation facing a gloomy fiscal future. Our federal government will soon pay hundreds of billions more annually just for the interest of our massive federal debt. Our trust funds to help the elderly and poor are nearly broke. Why, then, are we providing incentives for schools like Stanford to hire hundreds of unnecessary and expensive administrators? Why are we giving more funds to universities like that than to Cal State East Bay? In a world with substantial underemployment for recent college graduates and massive attrition between college entry and graduation, are we subsiding colleges far more than, say, alternative, less-expensive forms of education? Why are we generously subsidizing schools that give preferences to the children of their own graduates? Schools that often disdain our historical heritage, the achievements of the Enlightenment, or, dare I say, God?

Image: Adobe Stock

Richard Vedder

Richard Vedder teaches at Ohio University and is the author of "Restoring the Promise: American Higher Education Today."

14 thoughts on “More Employees Than Students at Stanford: Give Each Student a Concierge!

  1. This post and the editorial it drew from is misleading. You claim that Stanford has “15,750 administrators”. As examples of who you have in mind, you describe various vice presidents.

    This claim is incorrect as can be seen by looking at Stanford’s 2022 factbook (specifically pg 33; the factbook is linked below). That 15,750 includes all staff including about 1600 working at SLAC, over 1100 maintenance staff, over 1700 administrative and technical staff, and the remainder a group of managerial and professional staff. This last group undoubtedly includes what most people think of as administrators, but it also includes clinical faculty, research faculty, and so forth. If Stanford is like a lot of universities this group probably includes postdocs, fellows of various institutes (perhaps Hoover fellows?), and the like.

    There is much to criticize about universities to be sure. It is frustrating that this page in the factbook does not clearly break out managerial staff (what we all understand to be the administrators) and tell us what they spend on their administrative offices. It would also be more transparent to explain what kinds of positions comprise the professional staff (is my guess about postdocs right?). But these kind of sloppy cheap shots that undermine legitimate criticism.

    1. That’s still an absurd figure. Facility and other physical, non-administrative services, including THEIR management and support shouldn’t be any greater than 1 per 8 to 10 enrolled students.

      My suspicion is that will that many non-teaching, non-research staff, that they aren’t contracting out what organizations of that side normally do: the daily administration of payroll, benefits, retirement funds, health and other types of insurance, and so on.

      1. Why would the staffing of a research university scale with the number of students? Shouldn’t scale with the size of the research activity?

    2. anonprof: I think you have it about right. This post by Richard Vedder is silly but kind of typical for him. There is admin bloat but this kind of mix of ignorance and exaggeration is unhelpful.

  2. It would be interesting to know how many of the staff were hired in just the last 5 years. And in what areas.

  3. I take it Richard Vedder doesn’t much like Stanford. All that research, all that stuff at the med school, all those Nobel prize winners. I hadn’t realized all those people were just admin drones. Personally, I’ll take Berkeley, but I think Stanford is pretty cool!

    1. Faculty members do research — you usually have to have faculty status to be a PI.
      Hence a research intensive institution may have a lot of faculty members.

      But 15,750 administrators?!?

      That’s the entire population of some towns I know…

      1. Those are instructional faculty. Research faculty and clinical faculty (as well as the fellows of Hoover for example) are included in the 15,750. Generally Research faculty (soft money researchers) can be PI on grants.

    2. Hmmm…. Wasn’t it Stanford that just recently came out with a list of verboten words? I seem to recall `American’ was on that list.

      1. Didn’t they end up canceling that dumb list?

        Meanwhile, two Stanford-associated Chem Nobel prizes last fall?

        I would admit, some dumb rightwing covid stuff coming out of Stanford.

        Still I think Stanford pretty cool.

        Though I’ll take Berkeley.

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