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Gordon Iseminger: From President Starcher and a secretary to an army of VPs

GRAND FORKS--The comment by emeritus professors Omer Larson and Robert Seabloom on the increase in the number of UND administrators was well taken ("UND enrollment hops while admin population soars," Page A4, Feb. 25).

GRAND FORKS-The comment by emeritus professors Omer Larson and Robert Seabloom on the increase in the number of UND administrators was well taken ("UND enrollment hops while admin population soars," Page A4, Feb. 25).

Had the retired professors not so restrained themselves and had they gone beyond the administration of former President Kendall Baker, they might have concluded their letter by using more forceful words than "seems quite excessive."

Those who have been at the university for any length of time are handicapped. They can remember when the institution was what its framers intended it to be-an institution of higher education.

It has now been allowed to become a business, run on the corporate model with a CEO and CFO and layer upon layer of middle managers, most of whom have lost sight of the university's mission of providing a quality education for students. What follows is sobering and instructive:

President George Starcher had one vice president, Dr. William Koenker, the university's first vice president. Koenker had a secretary, as did President Starcher. Period.

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When Starcher's office was moved to Twamley from his office in "Old Main" (where he had buckets on the floor to catch the water leaking through the roof), the newly dedicated building comfortably housed the entire university administration, plus many services.

The administrative units and services that have since been forced out of Twamley to other locations include the snack bar and lunch room, a full-service U.S. Post Office, the University Credit Union, Duplicating Services, Admissions, Enrollment Services, the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Graduate Studies.

Just as nature abhors a vacuum and rushes to fill it, administrators abhor empty office space and rush to fill it with more administrators.

Title inflation at the university has kept pace with grade inflation. Former heads of units are now deans. Former directors are now vice presidents, with the requisite complement of associate vice presidents and assistant vice presidents.

Salaries, necessarily, must also be inflated, to be commensurate with the titles (provided with the equivalent of a vice president's salary, a department could hire three or four assistant or associate professors).

The university's mission should be-must be-to provide students with a quality education. Administrators may pay lip service to this mission, but it is hard to discern what contribution, if any, they make to fulfilling this mission.

They do not teach, some may never have taught, so they little appreciate what goes on in classrooms. They actually impede the faculty who want to fulfill the university's mission (they must, after all, justify their positions) by requiring repetitions of annual and triennial evaluations, assessments, reviews, and periodic "compliance tests."

All of which take time from teaching and research.

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In a strikingly informative sidebar in an article dealing with the university's budget difficulties, the Herald on Feb. 14 listed the salaries of UND's vice presidents and associate vice presidents, excluding benefits. The list did not include the salaries of all the assistant vice presidents. Even so, the total of the salaries is something like $3.1 million, about a third of the total that must be cut from UND's budget.

The salaries of the two vice presidents and nine associate vice presidents that have been added to the administration in the past dozen years, as professors Larson and Seabloom noted, total just under $2 million. Such a figure would go a long way in dealing with the university's budget difficulties, and without hurting the university's mission of providing students with a quality education.

Given what is noted above, Larson and Seabloom's comment that the increase in the number of administrators "seems quite excessive" can better be expressed as a "rampant and wholly unjustified" increase in the number of administrators.

Iseminger, UND's longest-serving faculty member, is a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of history at UND. He joined the UND faculty in 1962.

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