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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Are Bloated Bureaucracies Undermining Higher Education?

From 1975 to 2005, the cost of attending public universities in the U.S. tripled. Benjamin Ginsberg argues that much of the increased cost can be attributed to administrative bloat.

Since the 1970s, Ginsberg notes, the number of administrative staffers has risen  by 235 percent, while the number of faculty and students has increased by only about 50 percent.

Some administrators do so little that they “could be kidnapped by space aliens and it would be weeks or even months before his or her absence from campus was noticed,” Ginsberg writes.

He also says the increase in administrators is taking universities away from their fundamental academic purpose, and doing students a disservice.

Book Excerpt: “The Fall Of The Faculty”

By Benjamin Ginsberg

College students generally view professors as individuals who exercise a good deal of power. Members of the faculty, after all, direct the lectures, labs, studios and discussions around which academic life is organized. Professors also control the grades and recommendations that help to determine students’ graduate school and career prospects.

Students are often aware, too, that some of their professors are movers and shakers beyond the walls of the campus. Academics are visible in the worlds of science, literature, the arts, finance and, especially, politics where they serve as analysts, commentators, advisors and high-level policy makers.

But, whatever standing they may have in the eyes of undergraduates or even in the corridors of national power, most professors possess surprisingly little influence in their own schools’ decision-making processes. At most, though perhaps not all of America’s thousands of colleges and universities, the faculty has been shunted to the sidelines. Faculty members will learn about major new programs and initiatives from official announcements or from the campus newspaper. Power on campus is wielded mainly by administrators whose names and faces are seldom even recognized by students or recalled by alumni.

At most schools to be sure, faculty members control the content of their own classes and, for the most part, their own research agendas. The faculty, collectively, plays a recognized though not exclusive role in the hiring and promotion of its members. Outside these two areas, though, administrators seldom bother to consult the faculty. And, should faculty members have the temerity to offer unsolicited views, these will be more or less politely ignored. Thus, there are few schools whose faculty members have a voice in business or investment decisions. Hardly any faculties are consulted about the renovation or construction of buildings and other aspects of the school’s physical plant. Virtually everywhere, student issues, including the size of the student body, tuition, financial aid and admissions policies are controlled by administrators. At most schools, fund raising and alumni relations are administrative matters, though faculty members are often asked to entertain alumni gatherings by giving talks and presentations.

Most professors, perhaps, have only a passing interest in the university’s physical plant or its investment strategies. Particularly at research universities many faculty members normally pay little attention to their school’s undergraduate admissions policies. But, professors lack much power even in areas in which they have a strong interest, such as the appointment of senior administrators, the development of new programs and curricula, and the definition of budgetary priorities.

As to appointments, on most campuses, presidential searches are controlled by the trustees or regents, while provosts, deans and other senior administrators are appointed by the president with varying degrees of faculty input. Professors, to be sure, often do serve on administrative or presidential search committees, alongside administrators, students and college staffers. These searches, however, are usually organized and overseen by corporate search firms employed by trustees, in the case of presidential searches, or the school’s administration for other searches. Before the 1960s, such firms were seldom retained by universities. Today, however, as college administrators imitate the practices of their corporate counterparts, search firms are a fixture of academic life. In recent years, two-thirds of the presidential searches conducted by large universities have been directed by professional head hunters.

In consultation with their employers, these firms identify most of the candidates whom the committee will be able to meet and consider. Generally speaking, search firms rule out candidates about whom anything at all negative is said when they investigate candidates’ backgrounds. This practice introduces a marked bias in favor of the most boring and conventional candidates. And, even the constrained choice given the committee is seldom final. Search committees are generally empowered only to recommend two or three candidates for review by the president or trustees who actually make the final decision. Many schools, of course, do not bother with even the pretense of faculty participation in administrative searches. The faculty learns the name of a new president or provost when the trustees issue a press release.

Once appointed, presidents serve at the pleasure of the trustees and can only be removed by them. Other administrators serve at the pleasure of the president. Every school employs a great many administrators whom the faculty regard as foolish or incompetent. But, so long as these individuals retain the support of their administrative superiors, the faculty is usually powerless to remove them. At one school, Pennsylvania’s Albright College, the faculty were dismayed to learn in 1999 that the resume’ of their newly appointed president was filled with fraudulent claims–books never published, positions never held and so on. Yet, while the facts of the matter could not be disputed, most trustees continued to support the president for nearly five years before he finally agreed to step down. Much of the Boston University faculty loathed and feared dictatorial President John Silber during his twenty-five years in office but, given Silber’s solid base of support among powerful members of the board of trustees, faculty opposition came to naught. In a similar vein, the trustees stood by the president of West Virginia University in the face of a faculty no-confidence vote when it was revealed that the university had awarded the daughter of the state’s governor an MBA degree she had not actually earned. Conversely, faculty support will certainly not protect an administrator’s job if she or he runs afoul of the Board. In 2005, for example, Cornell’s Jeffrey Lehman, a president whose work was generally approved by the faculty, was summarily fired by the Board, apparently in the wake of a personnel dispute. The Board neither consulted with nor informed the faculty before determining that Lehman should go.

Occasionally, to be sure, just as riots and disturbances in a third world country can bring about the regime’s downfall, severe faculty unrest may bring about the sudden ouster of an unpopular or inept administrator. In 2006, for example, vehement faculty protest forced the resignation of Harvard’s Larry Summers and Case Western’s Edward Hundert. Yet, not unlike third world peasants, disgruntled professors are seldom able to convert their brief paroxysm of rage into any form of sustained influence. In the university as in the third world, after the jubilant celebrations marking the ouster of the hated old regime end, an imperious new leadership cadre arrives to grasp the reins of power. Confined to an occasional uprising, the faculty exercises little more power over administrative tenure than the students, another campus group that can occasionally overthrow a college president but almost never governs. Thus, in 2006, apparently a difficult year for college leaders, several weeks of protests by Gallaudet College students forced the resignation of president-elect Jane Fernandez. At last report, however, students were not running the college. As often as not, faculty protests have little effect. Thus, for example, at New York’s New School for Social Research, several years of faculty rebellion, including a 271 to 8 vote of no confidence in December, 2008, did not result in the ouster of despised president, Bob Kerrey.

The views of the faculty play a similarly limited role when it comes to new programs and spending priorities. For example, in 1998, faculty at the University of Texas at Austin were surprised to learn that the university administration had decided to spend nearly $200 million to expand the school’s athletic facilities. This plan included renovation of the football stadium as well as construction of an air conditioned practice field, a new track-and-field stadium and a new athletic center. Not only did this involve a diversion of funds from other potential uses, but it would come at the expense of badly needed classroom and laboratory space. The faculty’s objections were ignored.

In a similar vein, early in 2005, Florida State University professors were startled to learn from press accounts that their school’s administration planned to build a school of chiropractic medicine on the Tallahassee campus. Indeed, before the faculty had even read about the idea, the university’s president had already hired an administrator to oversee planning for the new school and advertised for a dean to direct its programs. University administrators boasted that theirs would be the first chiropractic school formally affiliated with an American university, making FSU the nation’s leader in this realm. Administrators apparently were not bothered by the fact that chiropractic theories, claims and therapies, beyond simple massage, are universally dismissed by the medical and scientific communities as having no scientific basis. In essence, FSU administrators aspired to a lead role in the promotion of quackery. Fortunately, the state legislature cut off funds for the chiropractic school before the administration’s visionary plans could be implemented.

In 2008, Virginia Commonwealth University faculty were astonished to discover that their administration had signed a secret agreement with the Philip Morris tobacco company which prohibited professors from publishing or even discussing the results of their research without the company’s permission. Under the agreement, queries from third parties, such as news organizations, were to be directed to the company and university officials were to decline to comment. The school’s vice president for research asserted that the contract, which violated the university’s own rules, struck a reasonable balance between the university’s need for openness and Philip Morris’s need for confidentiality.

At my own university, a 2006 press release informed the faculty that the school’s administration had decided to establish a graduate school of business and would soon begin a search for a dean. The announcement came as a complete surprise to the faculty. Even professors in such fields as Economics, who would be expected to contribute to the new school’s efforts, were not consulted about or even informed of the plan before it was made public. Most faculty members were dubious about the administration’s objectives, particularly when it became evident that fund raising for the business school, which would require tens of millions of dollars from the university, would take precedence over other, more pressing, development priorities. Oblivious to faculty concerns, the school’s former president and former provost blithely declared that they hoped professors would direct graduating seniors with business interests to the new and even now unaccredited school.

Particularly aggressive administrators are prepared to confront and silence faculty resistance to their plans to establish new programs or reorganize old ones. One favorite administrative tactic is the claim that some fiscal or other emergency requires them to act with lightning speed–and without consulting the faculty–to save the university. For example, in 1999, the president of the University of Dubuque informed the faculty that because of a financial shortfall, the administration was eliminating or consolidating more than half the school’s majors and programs. For the most part, liberal arts programs were to be cut in favor of the business curriculum favored by the administration and the school’s trustees. No faculty were consulted before the president made his announcement nor was evidence of the supposed financial crisis presented to the faculty.

More recently, in the wake of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, administrators at several New Orleans schools declared states of emergency. These administrators asserted, with some legal justification, that in times of emergency they possessed the power to reorganize programs, drastically change the college curriculum, eliminate course offerings and, indeed, close entire departments without consulting the faculty. At Loyola University of New Orleans, according to a report commissioned by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), President Kevin Wildes surprised the faculty by releasing a document entitled “Pathways Toward Our Second Century,” which presented a blueprint for a complete reorganization of the university, including the elimination of several programs, consolidation of others and the suspension of eleven degree programs. The president conceded that his administration had begun work on “Pathways” before the hurricane. Katrina, though, “may have forced us to accomplish this undertaking much earlier than expected.” In other words, the hurricane provided the administration with an opportunity to bring about a complete reorganization of the school’s teaching and research programs without faculty involvement.

Similarly, under the cover of a declaration of fiscal exigency, Tulane’s president, Scott Cowen, proffered a “Plan for Renewal,” that included reorganization or elimination of academic programs and major changes in the curriculum. Some faculty members charged that the plan was an opportunistic effort to implement proposals that had been presented to the faculty and defeated before Katrina. Tulane’s administration rejected this interpretation of events, but President Cowen conceded that the hurricane had allowed him to take “bold” actions that could not have succeeded under normal circumstances. “Out of every disaster comes an opportunity,” Cowen said. As we shall see below, the financial crisis of 2009 gave administrators new opportunities to take bold actions.

Even in matters of curriculum planning, an area usually seen as the province of the faculty, some college administrators and trustees have been encroaching on professorial power. In 1999, for example, faculty at the State University of New York (SUNY) charged that the system’s trustees were mandating a new system-wide general education curriculum without so much as consulting the SUNY faculty.  In 2005, Delaware State University administrators relieved the faculty of the burden of curriculum planning when they informed professors that the university would be developing a new degree program without any faculty involvement at all. The university had contracted with a New York company called “Sessions.edu” which would design and staff a new online Delaware State Master’s degree program in graphic arts and Web design. The school’s administration dismissed faculty objections to its curricular outsourcing plan.

In many instances, when they declare the need to reform the undergraduate curriculum, administrators have no actual interest in the curriculum’s content. Their real goal is to reduce the centrality of the traditional curriculum and to partially supplant it with what might be called a “student life” curriculum consisting of activities, seminars and even courses led by administrative staff rather than faculty. The traditional curriculum gives the faculty a privileged claim on university resources and decision-making priorities while the new curriculum enhances the power of administrators and justifies hiring more administrators and fewer faculty. Administrators usually seek to justify their school’s shift in emphasis by explaining that a good deal of learning takes place outside the classroom or involves subjects beyond the realm of the faculty’s traditional sphere of competence.

A former assistant dean–or perhaps deanlet or deanling might be a better title–at my university explained that students need to learn more than academic skills.12 They also must be taught, “the universal life skills that everyone needs to know.” And what might be an example of one of these all-important proficiencies? According to this deanling, a premier example is event planning. “For many students, the biggest event they’ve ever planned is a dinner at home.” But, planning an event on campus might require, “reserving the room, notifying Security, arranging transportation and lodging for out-of-town speakers, ordering food.” Armed with training in a subject as important and intellectually challenging as event planning, students would hardly need to know anything about physics or calculus or literature or any of those other inconsequential topics taught by the stodgy faculty.

An instrument often used by administrators to gain control over the curriculum is the study commission. Many universities, in recent years, have established commissions or committees to study the undergraduate curriculum and make recommendations for reform. Though the precise reasons for reform may not be clear, Americans generally believe that reform is a good thing and find it difficult to deny the desirability of considering reform proposals. Thus, even when the faculty is dubious about the need for such a commission, it is hard pressed to argue against its creation. At some schools, Berkeley, Chicago, Harvard and Stanford for example, professors were able to gain control of reform committees, asserting plausibly that they knew more about curricular needs than other groups on campus. More often, though, the makeup of the committee is designed to dilute or diminish faculty influence and the committee’s subsequent recommendations are often designed to create new budgetary priorities that will enhance administrators’ power and prerogatives.

One example of this phenomenon is the Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE) established by my university in 2002. This commission, whose announced goal was to improve the quality of undergraduate education, seemed to be modeled after similar commissions that had been established at Berkeley and Stanford. This sort of “borrowing” is common in administrative circles, where original ideas are usually in short supply. Administrators often hide their mimicry under the rubric of adherence to “best practices.” They can seldom offer any real evidence that the practice in question is even good, much less best. The Hopkins president who launched the committee had once been a Stanford faculty member, while the Hopkins provost, formerly a Berkeley professor, had actually served on Berkeley’s undergraduate education commission. Perhaps it was only natural that they should copy concepts from campuses with which they were familiar. While Hopkins borrowed the name CUE from its sister schools, the Hopkins commission functioned quite differently from its namesakes. At Berkeley and Stanford faculty members had seized control of their undergraduate commissions and had largely beaten back administrative incursions into curricular matters. Hopkins’ faculty, however, was caught off guard and watched as the committee became an administrative tool.

Administrative designs were evident from the outset when the president charged the commission with the task of improving undergraduate education, “ both inside and outside the classroom.” The phrase outside the classroom usually signals an effort by administrators to shift budgetary priorities from teaching, which the faculty controls, to other activities where, as noted above, faculty claims of expertise are weaker and administrators have an opportunity to expand their own bureaucratic domains. The role the administration expected the committee to play became even more clear when its make-up was announced. At Berkeley and Stanford most CUE members had been drawn from the faculty. At Hopkins, though, only eight of the forty individuals named to the commission were full-time professors. Twelve were administrators and staffers, and the remainder were students and alumni. Of the eight faculty commissioners, two were untenured and, thus, concerned not to make waves, and some of the others were individuals frequently appointed to university committees because they could be trusted by the administration to refrain from making trouble.

Named to chair Hopkins’ CUE was a freshly-appointed Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, a former medical school professor who had little or no experience with undergraduate education. This lack of acquaintance on the part of its chair with the subject of the commission’s inquiry would presumably be no hindrance to its efforts to improve education outside the classroom. Before the commission could complete its work, this worthy left the university to become the provost of a small college. The inaugural chair was soon replaced by a new Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, also an individual with no experience inside the classroom.

For at least some of the faculty committee members, service was a mind-numbing experience. On many occasions the CUE chair scheduled presentations by counselors and consultants–presumably experts in education outside the classroom–who led the commissioners in incomprehensible role-playing exercises. One professor told me that he thought he had been transported to an alternative universe whose official language was psychobabble. Administrators on the commission, though, were reported to enjoy their work. Like their bureaucratic counterparts everywhere they welcomed time out of the office, particularly if lunch was provided.

CUE submitted its report in 2003. Only a handful of the report’s recommendations actually focused on undergraduate education, the committee’s nominal topic. For the most part, these recommendations took the form of vague and platitudinous exhortations. Recommendation 5, for example, declared that the university should, “Expand the opportunities available to first-year students for intellectually engaging academic experiences in a small group format.” Presumably, implementation of this bold proposal would require overcoming fierce opposition from the many groups on campus committed to blocking student exposure to intellectually engaging experiences. Other recommendations were trivial. Number 12, for example, called upon professors to, “give final examinations only during the final examination period.” This would end the common practice of offering exams on the last day of class, a custom that had undoubtedly diminished the quality of American higher education for more than a century. Equally bold was Recommendation 33, which prodded the university to, “improve food quality and service.”

If CUE had little to offer on the topic of undergraduate education inside the classroom, it had much to say about what should happen outside the classroom. Recommendation 1 called upon each college within the university to appoint a “senior level administrator” to assure the quality of undergraduate education. Recommendation 12 affirmed the need for a new administrator to, “develop networking and internship opportunities for undergraduates.” Recommendation 26 demanded that more minority administrators be hired. Other recommendations called for expansion of administrative supervision of most aspects of campus life.

One might have thought that improving undergraduate education would begin by enlarging the faculty to allow a larger number and greater variety of courses. Perhaps, the committee might have considered changes in the undergraduate curriculum to address emerging fields in the sciences or new concepts in the humanities. But, apparently the idea that at least the first steps in improving undergraduate education should have something to do with faculty and courses is an old fashioned and overly professorial perspective. Created and led by administrators, the commission found that the undergraduate experience could be most effectively improved if the university hired more administrators! Several years later, many committee recommendations, including those pertaining to the quality of student life, had not been fulfilled, according to the school’s student newspaper. Those proposals calling for the appointment of more administrators, however, had been quickly implemented.

Reprinted with permission of Oxford University Press, Inc. Copyright 2011


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  • Bdjnj

    Thank you so much for your observations.  I think *large* numbers of students and professors would agree with you 100%.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530642827 Dave Palmacci

    I completely agree with Ben, I recently graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and I felt first hand how much college is becoming a business. It’s how I feel about government; I don’t feel administration and government is a bad thing, I feel it’s bad when it becomes too large and drowns in its own bureaucracy. 

  • Mike

    I am a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and have been here for 11 years. I could not agree more with Prof. Ginsberg’s comments! Even in the last 5 years I have noticed the endless new administrators, lessening of the faculty power, and infringement on teaching. My research dollars are paying their salaries and yet they make it harder and harder to do my research and teach students!


  • Frustrated Student

    I agree w/ Mr. Ginsberg. My favorite example of this from my undergrad days was when I went to my school’s registrar’s office to get a signature on a deferment form for my student loans, verifying that I was currently enrolled. The administrator told me that I had to get the signature from the main (university’s) registrar’s office across campus. I explained that it all I needed was a simple signature to verify my enrollment and that I was certain that the loan office would not care which registrar’s office it came from. I was told I’d have to trudge across campus to get some other administrator to sign it. My question is, why does each school have to have a registrar’s office if the university has one for all students?

  • Holocam

    This is nothing new.  University bureaucracy bloat at the University of Pennsylvania was thoroughly documented by The Philadelphia Inquirer about 15 years ago.

  • Kbgressitt

    In the last year, the Cal State University system increased student fees by more than 25%; concurrently, the San Marcos campus had to reduce the number of classes offered, yet  hired three new deans to the tune of $1.2 million in recruitment and first year salary fees. This is a working class, commuter campus. The result of these contradictory actions is that students are having to extend their time in college, which prolongs their entering the job market to put  their learning to good use.

  • Wvhsmom

    This man is SO right in so may ways!!!! His voice should be heard and heeded, and soon.  We are on a dangerous road. College is oversold and we will reap the “rewards” all too soon if this keeps up.

    Thank you for giving him a forum.  It was the first time I have heard your show.  It will not be the last!

  • Debbie Flint Daniel

    I was fascinated by Professor Ginsberg’s thoughts on administration in higher education. As a physician I have been a part of or heard others describe the same exact situation in hospitals and and health systems throughout our country. Just a couple of decades ago, those who held administrative positions were seasoned physicians who saw the purpose and ultimate goal of the hospital as helping patients. Now we too are asked to think of those we care for as “customers”. We work on “productivity” schedules and have little input in many situations that directly impact patient care. There are meetings to plan meetings and many do not have anything to do with improving actual care of the patients. Those added layers of administration are also adding to the cost of health care. Do we need administrators?? Yes! But not out of proportion to caregivers or without significant members who have or are actively involved in this the care of patients. 

    Thanks for this conversation. 
    Debbie Flint Daniel, MD
    Nome, Alaska

  • Brian C

    Strange your guest made such of point at dismissing “the learning kitchen”. In a country that wrestles so much with obesity it might be important to tie in nutrition with education. Mr. Ginsberg seemed so closed minded it makes me wonder what he is eating to make him such a crab.

    • Jennyd34

      I too was struck by this point. Sadly, maybe universities are seeing a need to teach their students life skills before setting them loose on the world. However, I’m struck by the irony that kindergartens are pushing academics on five-year-olds and universities are being forced to pay (or be paid for!) that mistake.

  • Sanyuaya

    I am a college administrator and I think that this is a very important discussion. Unfortunately, the generalizations and absurd examples really took away from the fundamental argument and  made the speaker sound angry and bitter. As educators, we need to figure out how to better align the efforts of administration and faculty instead of continuing down the ugly unproductive road of us vs. them. 

    • Anonymous

      I beg to differ. However I do think it’s a little bit much calling all administrators educators.
      Some do very good and important work while others are not doing much at all.
      What about the colleges and universities with bloated sports programs where coaches make more than the presidents.

      • Dann Todd
        • elaine

          Yeah–that’s part of the problem, thinking that what matters for a school is “making money.”

      • Youngada

        I think a similar thing could be said for many faculty, not doing much at all.  Lets talk about restructuring tenure while redoing administration.

        • Don Ridgway

          I really love it when some genius says faculty don’t do much. Are you a teacher, Youngada? No; if you were, you would know better.

        • Jelun

          Yeah, let’s keep them insecure as well as underpaid.

  • Pondering1

    Too many Chiefs and not enough Indians (native)! Executive bloat and strategic brouhaha exists in many organizations where the executives figure out methods to increase their salaries, postulate their worth, and reduce the worker bees. My kid’s elementary school has more fat executives and firing teachers. My employer is not hiring worker bees. Instead they retain supervisors and give them director titles and pay. Most past strategic efforts end up in a dead ends, but I do admit I enjoy the strategic and team building lunches! :)

  • Tom

    Well, I’ll have to get Ginsberg’s book to examine his case, but my intuition says that this is the typical line of specious argument advanced out of the “us-them” rationality that pervades faculty discourse about administration at many institutions.  As a professor emeritus who served half of my career in administration, I can attest that Ginsberg’s claims do not square with my own institutional experiences.  Yes, administration has grown dramatically, but much of this growth has been unavoidable.  For example, any major university now has a large informational technology division that did not exist 30 years ago.  Student afffairs divisions have exploded with the creation of women’s centers, LGBT offices, campus recreation departments, and many other services that today’s students expect.  Anyone want to try to get by without either of those divisions configured and staffed as they are in a modern university?  I doubt it.  And academic administration, at least in the universities where I have served, does consist mainly of people who began their careers as faculty and often continue to serve in the professoriate on a part-time basis. 

  • Steve Wilkinson

    All organizations need to defend themselves from self serving bloat. Education is no different. There will always be people who begin to surround themselves with self validating activity and job protecting rules that have nothing to do with the mission of the organization.  This is why top school management needs to have leadership that is passionate about the mission of educating and graduating their students using state of the art methods and only the mission of educating, and if necessry a mission statement that top management uses to focus their decisions. Then the service they provide to their community, country, and the world will be cost effective and available to as many as possible who are qualified.

  • JL

    The absurdities  my husband, a professor, confronts in dealing with administration of the school where he teaches border on the absurd.  Eg.,  An administrator ruled that it was necessary that some of his research required complete reviews only to find that “no” it ddin’t require compliance review, but since it had been categorized as such initially, even though incorrectly, a ruling by the compliance group was still required, tying up the research for months.   Incorrect interpretations of laws and compliance rules regarding intellectual property can tie up funding avenues and research relationships for months at a time, jeopardizing the actual funding and/or research relationships.  Often the folks doing the review have minimal knowledge of the  actual laws and rules.  Husband, who is also has a law degree, has had to write legal analysis of some laws to explain to administrators why their positions are incorrect.
    My comment is this – it’s a situation similar to many corporations where legal and accounting departments increase their power to hold the actual business of the business hostage, not  contributing to the original goals of the company, but rather taking away from them.
    We can all agree that legal and financial concerns of the times required explicit expertise, but Ginsberg is right that  it has gone too far.  Administrative departments have lost sight that they exist to make the thing work, no to hold it back.

  • Kathleen

    Thanks so much for airing this author, Benjamin Ginsberg.  I have been teaching in higher education in the Pittsburgh area.  Because I teach part time, I have had the “opportunity” to teach for minimal pay at a number of universities.  The story is much the same everywhere — bloated administrative staffs who make way too much money for what they do, and do see their jobs as a means to limit the power of faculty in decision-making.  I like Mr. Ginsberg’s analysis that teaching and research have become the means to serve the larger end of  administration and university survival.  That truly strikes a chord of truth, I fear.
    Kathleen in Pittsburgh

  • Ohio Professor

    I agree completely.  And so do most everyone I know. I have been in higher ed in mathematics for 40 years, and the trend is outrageous.  At the same time tenure track faculty have been reduced by 30-50%, even with increased enrollments.  And faculty roles in advising and administration has been severely eroded. It is the main reason for faculty collective bargaining. Not just money. I would tell parents and students to shop carefully and be demanding.  You can’t run a university or college as a business–not a modern-day business anyway. Students are more like clients than customers.  We owe them more than that. Our nation’s future is at stake. (We even have an administrator who used to work for Disney World.)

  • Public U. Assistant Prof

    He is right to question/criticize bloat but his critique of “professional administrators” versus faculty turned administrators seems misguided without evidence to show that non-faculty administrators are less effective than their faculty-turned-administrator counterparts.  There are plenty of examples of faculty turned administrators who are horribly ineffective and lack the skills for their administrative duties. 

    While he is dismissive of seeing universities as businesses seeking students as customers, he also notes programs that had too many administrators but not enough students.  A more customer-oriented perspective would arguably be more focused on attracting customers, so his argument seems muddled.   He asserts that the focus of universities should be on teaching and scholarship but I’d argue the focus should, significantly, be on learning and what serves students.   A customer-orientation can mean a motivation to create an experience (in terms of quality and affordability) that better serves students.

  • Another Frustrated Student

    I’m a 20-something applying for med school and attended a public university for undergrad and a private university for a master’s. Dealing with staff is continually frustrating. Frequently, they block access to deans and professors and provide me (and my peers) with lazy, incomplete answers. During my current application process, med school application “coordinators” have been frequently rude, short tempered, or provided false information. Only two schools have provided answers directly from the deans of admission. One coordinator told me I was ineligible for admission and not to apply; luckily, I ignored her and applied anyway – I am interviewing at that university in 2 weeks.

     The letter of reccomendation coordinator from my undergraduate institution is one of the hardest working people I know; she is still assisting me with my applications (even though I graduated 3 years ago), because the expensive, “prestigious” institution where I completed my master’s failed to provide my program with the pre-medical advisor that was promised with tuition. The university would deny this, because they technically did hire an advisor; considering he joined the staff 3 weeks before the program ended and after the med school interview cycle had closed, he was useless to my class. Additionally, the graduate program had the WORST coordinator I have ever come into contact with. Disorganized, unprofessional, the works. Sent letters on behalf of students to their prospective medical schools that contained incorrect graduation dates, rendering them ineligible to start med school, and eliminating them from the admissions process. Embarrassed that she made a mistake, she never came forward and it wasn’t until a few proactive med school admissions reps called some students in my class (wondering why they were applying for the upcoming academic year when the letter stated they would still be working on their master’s). The problem with a poor academic coordinator and lack of an advisor was hardly addressed, because the administrators of the program were not actively administrating. They were associated with the program to better their academic reputations, but failed to answer emails, requests for meetings, etc. from the students in my program.

    Unfortunately, universities have become businesses. The quality of the staff at my (free to me) undergraduate state school was superior to that of the 25K a year private grad school. Certainly felt like I did not get what I paid for!

    A bunch of venting to say that, yes, I fully agree with  Mr. Ginsberg.

  • Lee Rosenthall

    LOVE this guy. I hope his book includes the short list of schools NOT following this insane consumer-driven philosophy as I’ve got a kid who’ll be applying to college in the next couple of years. And don’t even get me started on the “College Board” and their ridiculous cash cows, the SAT and  the PSAT (“Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test”), which kids are now instructed to take not once, but TWICE, once “for practice” as sophomores, and then again to play the “National Merit” lottery their junior years, before they take the SAT twice after that! Apparently the College Board is a big believer in the “if you build it they will come” approach of “preparing” kids for the college admissions process and bilking their parents in the process — excellent practice indeed!

  • http://twitter.com/pait Felipe Pait

    When I first came to the US as a PhD student I was amazed at the efficient and streamlined administration, compared to the University of São Paulo, Brazil, where I now teach. Now 25 years later, the Brazilian bureaucracies are still thriving, at the expense of teaching and research; but the US seems to be catching up.

    I take this a sign of global warming ;-) The US is becoming a tropical country.

  • butofcourse

    I applaud Prof. Ginsberg courage in coming out and talking about such a sensitive topic.

    Administrative bloat is a problem common to all human organizations. I work in a large and (so far) successful technology company, and we suffer from it too; and similarly to the university world, people prefer to pretend it does not exist rather than address it.

    In my experience administrative bloat is often linked to groups of people in an organization that have poor internal alignment, and a poorly charted career growth opportunities. In an environment where it is not clear what your mission is, and how you will grow to the next level, the surest way to career growth is to gather more people under you. This is a time-proven technique that is as old as humankind.

    The people under you won’t complain that their job is not really needed — they will hurry and make themselves busy. Your peers will generally not complain either, because with your increased staff you are already more important than them, and your growing organization could replace them. Your boss often will not complain either, because his/her organization (and therefore importance) has just grown too. It’s a win-win situation.

    Good luck Prof. Ginsberg.

  • Dr. Acharya

    Politicians are appointing theri cronies to these adminsitrator positions and loading them up with pork while at the same time taking away salary and benefits from faculty.

  • BHA in Vermont

    What is wrong with Mr. Ginsberg? The purpose of universities is to provide grossly overpaid corporate like positions and have their professors get research grants to pay the admins. The students and the adjunct faculty who teach them are only there to make it look like an institution of higher learning.

    Based on Mr. Ginsberg’s comments, perhaps we need to modify the old adage:
    Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach …  those who can’t teach, administrate.

  • Jlgordon

    I grew up in a college town in the 1970s, home of a State University. I also went to college there.  When I was a child, I can remember no administrative offices. When I began college in 1980, the administration was in the academic buildings. By the time I left in 1985, there were administrative offices everywhere. When I visit now, they seem more common than academic programs.

  • Loving Corporate Life

    I worked at a college and always felt there as so much wasted effort on planning and planning for plans. My favorite part about some of the staff was that for many of them, no one really knew what their jobs were because there were so many people represented in that department doing the same thing that no one really ended up doing anything.

  • rmorales


  • http://twitter.com/IdaBomb27 IdaBomb27

    Interesting point…he’s yet to mention a private school that is blowing through money like a tween at Justice…

  • Julia

    I couldn’t agree more with this speaker. As a former department chair at a prestigious art school, all these issues are ones we dealt with on a daily basis. The pressure to operate as a business with student clients, to de-emphasize quality and maximize quantity, and the financial imbalance/struggles caused by  low faculty salaries and 10 fold higher salaries for top administration left me disillusioned and sad….

  • Will

    As a college administrator I agree that institutions are bloated but the reality is that many administrators are not allowed to teach and get involved in the curriculum because they are not seen as having credentials. The young administrators fill a hole that faculty don’t want to fill, like dealing with facility complaints by residential students and given their early professional careers don’t have credentials to be taken seriously as educators. This leads to a fenced in effect where the administrators stay so involved in the admin side that it becomes harder to get involved in the traditional teaching aspect. If we want to bridge the gap faculty need to help recognize that every employee can help teach and allow these people to be recognized for their efforts in some way, granted a lower level, just as the faculty demand on a daily basis.

  • Beth

    I worked as a research administrator at a large state university until last year. My work was at the interface of the university with federal and state agencies. I agree that there is a bloat of administrative staff, but believe I was one of the “hard-working and useful” types–overworked, in fact!

    I was dedicated to advancing the very worthy research projects often devised, but became quite frustrated that  few faculty were sufficiently knowledgeable and skilled to effectively understand and carry out the administrative tasks necessary to support this research!

    I would argue that earning a PhD education fails young faculty in that it teaches them to work hard on their own, but does not help them gives them any real appreciation of the subtleties of working in collaboration with a hard-working staff to get something done!

  • Urizun73

    Absolutely true! I just left a college that is so confused by its real mission because it’s primary goal is recruiting students. They finally got a huge in-coming class this year, but they did not accommodate the students with a necessary spike in #s of faculty members. In fact, they cut the operating budget by asking senior faculty to leave with a tempting early retirement plan. 45 people took that offer. The spots left empty have been replaced by adjuncts–never a good idea because long-standing faculty at small liberal arts colleges are valued precisely because they know the culture of the place, have great experience in counseling students through their 4 years, and know their courses well.

    Recently, too, I have encountered these administrators at the high school level–”professionals” who tell students who to write good college essays. As a parent (who is also a faculty member at a nearby college) on one of the committees at the counseling center at my daughter’s school, these professionals do not want to hear what I say about what I see and how I decided to bring a student into my college based on the writing of the student. After 25 years of teaching, I know what the college looks for; yet what the parents on the committee were being told was that their high school students should follow a particular formula for writing the essay. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    But I encountered this sort of thing at the college, as well–a huge cadre of junior administrators. The number increased two or three fold in the 11 years I was at the college. The salaries of the top administrators (also increasing in numbers) are much larger than that of faculty and much, much larger than long standing office staff, always the backbone of any good department.

  • Judithsviews

    100% on target. I am a former faculty member of a large state university.  Bloated with “middle managers” with little to do other than re-arrange “furniture.”  Every word this man says is accurate. So glad I am not a student today – I hope they will pay attention and ask for a better deal. 

  • Chuck

    This is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Drop down into the K-12 system and you will discover admin to teacher ratios of 1:1 or worse. Plocies in the hundreds running to thousands of pages and more of the “meetings to determine what to discuss at the next meeting” and so on.

    Compare to major corporations far larger than most educational organizations that have maybe twenty or so policies and an ordered hierarchy of documented responsibilities in plain english accessible to those who need to know what their authority to act is. Most policy simply addresses complaince with the law (we shall comply with all applicable law, etc).

    Note that in effective organizations (profit & non profit) the focus is on accomplishing something other than acquiring other peroples money under false pretenses to support the perpetuation of the bureaucracy.

  • BHA in Vermont

    Adding to my last comment:
    1) Bravo Mr. Ginsberg
    2) A friend of mine who teaches at a university was trying for tenure. The response was it wasn’t going to happen because TEACHING doesn’t count, only RESEARCH counts and my friend was working really hard at teaching.  So my friend gets hot into research, gets a huge grant and guess what – TENURE!

    What a sad state of affairs. The costs get more and more unaffordable, the education is not considered important and the compensation for admins skyrockets while the service workers and faculty have to fight to not get their positions and benefits cut TOO much more.

  • Frustrated Staffer

    Oh, I just want to reach through the radio and punch this pretentious windbag so hard. Part of the reason there are so many administrators at the university where I work is because faculty refuse to do much of anything. Host a faculty panel at an admissions event?  Please. You can’t get them to show up. Advise undergraduates? But that would interfere with their research agendas! Speak to a community group? “I don’t get rewarded for service.” Must be nice to decide what you do and don’t do at work. Don’t be fooled by this fool. Faculty are the ultimate free agents. Most could care less about their students or their host institutions. 

    • Jerry

      I couldn’t agree more.  My wife is the Director of residential Life at a small college and she spends her weekends at the hospital!  She regularly deals with suicide, deaths, etc.  This windbag has no real evidance, just what he feels.  What an ass!

      Jerry from Kalamazoo.

      • Anonymous

        It’s not the faculty’s job to be the campus therapist. Most faculty are pretty busy grading papers and dealing with the job they were hired to do, teach. Where do you get off blaming them for the problems that these young adults are bringing to the school. By the way it sounds as if this small college has some huge problems. Your wife regularly deals with suicide, deaths, and etc? This does not sound like a good thing in my view. What is etc?

    • BHA in Vermont

      “I don’t get rewarded for service.”

      No, they get rewarded for research. Which goes pack to the point you made prior to that statement. The University doesn’t value education or community service, it values research and the MONEY it brings in. It is all about the money and all about the money the ADMINISTRATORS get.

  • Chaslie

    I work at a university and I find this to be so true!

  • Christine

    I take some issue with Professor Ginsberg’s argument. Though I agree that the era of “The Faculty” is on the decline, it is simplistic to blame this on the rise of administration. Universities as organizations have changed over time, in large part because they are reacting to changes in society. Education is no longer for the elite– arguable a good thing. But as obtaining a degree became the ticket to middle class stability, these organizations have had to evolve in order to stay relevant.  Like it or not, universities need students to survive. And in an incredibly competitive market, what compels a student to go to a school isn’t who their professors are. It is who that school will help them become in order to move up or maintain societal status. You don’t have to like it, but that doesn’t stop it from being true.These loathed administrators are  guiding organizations through this change because most faculty find the idea that universities are competing in a marketplace completely repugnant. There is a knee jerk reaction to blame administration for the “jacuzzization” of education, and its perceived overemphasis on things like life skills. In truth, this is what an education means to the current generation of students– it isn’t about learning Greek and Latin, but about learning to become smart, employable adults. Faculty members aren’t always the best people to help students learn these things either. For every one of Professor Ginsberg’s incompetent deanlings, you can also find a tenured professor who is no longer engaged with his job, or a faculty member who cares more about her research into some esoteric topic than about teaching her students. Yes, there is a high level of bureaucracy at a lot of colleges and universities and that needs to change. But so do the attitudes of professors like Ginsberg. Faculty are just as likely to be part of the problem as the administrators that they treat like pariahs. 

  • Shiny

    “Look out kid they keep it all hid.  Twenty years of schoolin’ and they’ll put you on the day shift.”

    Bob Dylan

  • Jackflove

    I’m a retired administrator who found that while Mr. Ginsberg made a number of reasonable points and assertions in his on-air remarks, he seems to have a blind spot when it comes to the failings of the faculty. Arrogant windbags (and regrettably I think I have to include Mr. Ginsberg in that category) are at least as responsible as anyone else for the runaway costs and bloated administrations at many schools.

    I’ll provide one example. At my university, a highly competent senior administrator was principally responsible for raising the funds and organizing the construction of a computer media center that could have rivaled the best in the country. The Provost and Deans decided that it was unreasonable to allow a mere administrator (one without a PhD no less) to continue to lead the center after it had been built. They hired a faculty member from another University to take the lead position. In the space of two years this person argued for the merger of several departments that resulted in a move of too many people to the facility. People were relocated to office and lab space utterly inappropriate for their duties. The prior lead administrator quickly found another position elsewhere. Seeing that the results of her leadership was the collapse of leading edge research in the new facility, she abandoned ship and took a Dean-ship at another school.

    The facility is now doing much better. The Provost may have learned a lesson–a senior director was appointed who was neither a member of the faculty nor possessed a PhD.

    People can blow off steam and continue to comment as if they actually know something. But until they have been in the trenches, it’s just hot air. Well, hot water.

    • Dora B

       There is neither evidence nor logic here. The comment pits a “senior administrator” whom the commenter defines in the first place as “highly competent” against a faculty member who made controversial or mistaken administrative choices. The administrator leaves the university. Therefore, non-PhD administrators are more competent than faculty administrators? Please, go back to freshman composition class.

      • Jackflove

        Ms B advises me to return to “freshman composition class” based on her (faulty) application of “logic” to my comments above.  Lacking in my original comment is any indication of a belief that non-PhD administrators are always or evenly commonly more competent than faculty administrators. I would not have written such a thing because I do not think that is so. I simply believe that under many circumstances it can be the case and provided one instance of anecdotal evidence to that position.

        Ms B should follow her own advice.

  • Montyshawk

    I am an ex-student of Ross University school of medicine. It has recently been purchased by and rolled into the Devry system, a publicly traded company. Tuition increases every 4 months and and it is readily apparent that the focus is on getting, but less maintaining and retaining complacency of the student body. An example is the extremely high acceptance rate, to where the school gets in trouble with medical boards, and high failure rate.

  • Mannishboy17

    the best adjective to describe the administration problem is “cirle-jerk”.
    It is clear that producing intelligent well-rounded students with their best interests in mind is not the priority of administrators. Tuition increases at ludicrous rates. Students are increasing graduating in more than four years. University’s are being so bold to even refuse college credits from community colleges with great reputations. It’s all about generating money.

    However, students don’t help the situation by mindlessly going through the motions. Most new students are excited to go college for the parties and independence, and it’s the status- quo to take out huge loans to make it happen. This system is very unhealthy and change is needed.

  • Ohdogma

    I can identify with Prof. Ginsberg frustration.  As part-time faculty for a 9 years in Chicago, I endured 3 departmental merges.  I watched helplessly as successful courses were picked apart & curriculum re-written to fluff up the newly formed, identity-seeking department.  The inter-departmental bureaucratic arguing was childish and self-serving.

    Like many industries, our higher education system needs to have a little more of a LEAN or “continuous improvement” approach.  The business of education, like modern corporations has become very, very top heavy.  We are witnessing the demise of the great American educational system, at one time a great envy to the greater part the world. 

    Along with cultivating  critical thinking, the key goal for any university is to prepare their students for their intended profession and entering the work force as contributing members of society, not by keeping them home burdened by huge educational debt. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/zswim Zander Fields

    I agree with Kbgressitt, in that these price increases are only resulting in students being delayed in bringing their learned skills and talents to the job market. I’m currently working towards my online Masters in Education at this site: http://www.cu-portland.edu/ and as a future teacher I can’t help but feel that this crisis is having a compounding effect on damaging the economy.

  • Mary Ann

    Professor Ginsberg has hit a nerve – thanks for exposing this painful aspect of the modern University.  The issue is complex and important.  There has been an increase in administrator:faculty ratios.  This is a fact.  There is less attention to the expertise of faculty in shaping curriculum and mission.  This is a fact.  There has been increasing attention to using Universities to generate income whether that be from grants, patents, drugs, inventions, etc.  This is a fact.  There is now a strong emphasis on the idea that Universities should be training students for jobs rather than educating students about the nuances of a particular discipline.  That is a fact.  There are now countless forms and reporting documents that need to be filled out to justify strategic plans which change with the administration in charge.  Reporting numbers and justifying them in the context of state budgeting agencies, accrediting agencies, federal grant agencies, safety and health agencies requires more administrators and more administrators cost more money and thus, when professors retire, they are no longer replaced, and then there ends up being a higher administrator: faculty ratio.  So……the real question is:  what is the purpose and mission of the University?  This is the discusssion that needs to be held.

  • The Unneeded

    Who recruited the students Ginsberg teaches when not writing polemics?  Staff.

    Who advises those students, houses them, treats them at the health center? Staff.

    Who administers his grants? Staff.

    Who represents his university’s interests with local, state and federal governments? Staff.

    And who wrote the press release about his book and got him on NPR?


    Yep, clearly there are too many staffers in academia.

    • guest

      Ah, but you neglect the difference between staff and administration. 

    • NC independent thinker

      Professors also recruit the best students, do the best advising, best represent their university as an academic institution and do the best job of editing press releases to make them accurate. 

      Administration is a vital to making the university work well and office staff invaluable to the operation of departments and schools – the issue is the lack of academic over site and non-transparency in assuring the quality and quantity necessary to the primary mission of the institute: education. 

  • sculptor

    I know that Professor Ginsberg’s descriptions might appear to some as the stuff of polemics, but sadly, after having taught university for 37 years,I know that they are cogent and accurate.

  • Anonymous

    Great article.

    My only complaint: the author’s sole frame of reference apparently lies east of the Mississippi– a token mention of Cal and Stanford, and a quick stop-off in Austin notwithstanding.  He comes off like a parochial easterner whose world ends well shy of the Rockies.

    That said, I think he is right and I hope that his book has a positive impact on higher education.

    Another big contributing factor to the decline of American universities– one that Dr. Ginsberg conveniently overlooks– is that most faculty today are primarily researchers and grant-writers, not teachers.  Most of the so-called great American universities gave up on teaching undergraduates a long time ago, in favor of building their institution’s academic reputations through faculty publications and lucrative government grants.  In this, faculty are complicit with administrators in betraying the university’s teaching mission.

  • Terry Papillon

    This is a comment about the audio portion
    of the report:

    I am the Director of the University Honors program at Virginia Tech and
    the Honors Residential College that Professor Ginsberg references is
    under my supervision. I can clarify that we do not have a ‘learn to
    Cook’ class in our curriculum as he asserts (minute 11). There is a kitchen in
    residential college and we call it fondly ‘the kitchen of learning’ to
    encourage students in the college to think of all things around them as
    opportunities for learning and engagement with each other. It is not a class.
    curriculum includes the First Year Honors Residential College Seminar
    for new students; in this course we talk about the importance of creating
    individual relationships with faculty, doing undergraduate research, and
    creating an education for themselves that is unique to their own

    Professor Ginsberg brings up some good points, but he uses straw figures
    to argue them and thus clouds the issue further. By not asking anyone at
    Virginia Tech about the residential college and by extrapolating
    incorrectly from a newspaper article — does he really just believe what
    he reads? — he shows an alarming lack of scholarly inquiry. I would
    fault my students for such argumentation.

    Terry Papillon
    Director, University Honors
    Professor of Classics

  • Lavada

    This is old news. But nice to see that it finally made a story on Here and Now.

    As an old friend told me back about 30 years ago about how the captalist system functions.
    He worked in a high position amongst the banksters in New York City.
    They had sort of a motto of the following: Full employment at any cost.

    Keep the masses busy at anything possible. 

    And as Dr. Herbert M. Shelton stated:   Capitalism is devoted to the principle of controlling rather than remedying evils.


  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RH4PJ67E6B4SIQKWDNPXKROTIU NorlandoPat

    The elephant in the room that Ginsburg neglects to notice, is that a lot- in my opinion-the majority,of college professors are power-hungry, egotistical asshats that deserve to be shunted to the sidelines.

  • Tracyk

    I would add to this discussion the point that another major problem is the uneven pay scales between administrators and faculty.  At our University we have staff people in charge of one program who make more than associate professors with multiple books on top of their teaching, professional service, University service etc commitments.  The bloat isn’t just the numbers and power but also the pay

  • ulfie

    It’s the rise of the bean-counter bureaucrats.  Beware.

  • Should not use real name.

    Professor Ginsberg is exactly correct with this.  I have been a productive teacher and researcher for the past 30 years, but remaining productive and effective is becoming increasingly difficult because of all the inane mandates and requirements and documentation required by the mid-level and upper mid-level administrators within our own institution.  What Dr. Ginsberg has tried to describe for readers is well known to the faculty at the top rated state university that I work at.  I hope that his book will lead to a return to a more sane system.

  • http://www.fractalschlaraffenland.net Wynn Schaible

    I heard this on my local PBS station and tried to buy it for a birthday present for my son, a university professor. Surprise! The local monopolist (Bums & Ignoble) doesn’t stock it and can’t get it to me on time. Shame on them, and kudos for Ginsburg!

  • Gardengeek

    Years ago, I was a temp helping with a “classification study” at a major university. It was clear to me as I worked, that a lot of the furnished (often ludicrously embellished) job descriptions made clear how superfluous the holders of those jobs were. It is worse today, I’m sure.

  • ArticleTwo

    There is a direct correlation between faculty whine and administrative bloat. 

  • Sjwas

    of course the college admin has grown and grown in keeping pace of fed gov aid (loans! to kids) growing and growing each year. if congress stopped fueling this ever increasing bubble the costs would come down immediately. instead they keep adding to it, making college more unaffordable and forcing kids to take out more loans ….its worse now than the housing bubble inflated prices and crisis…we are still in it!

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