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Silverglate: Bureaucratic rule alive and well at Harvard

By HARVEY SILVERGLATE | February 22, 2023 at 12:51 a.m.

The long-running trend toward our colleges and universities being run by bureaucrats rather than scholars has just taken a giant leap forward with the selection of Claudine Gay as Harvard’s next president, the first African-American and second woman to hold the post. She will succeed Lawrence Bacow, who served a surprisingly short term of five years before announcing his retirement.

Gay’s current position at Harvard is Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, a title she has held since 2018. Before that, according to her curriculum vitae, she was a professor of government beginning in 2006 and beginning in 2008, she held the title Professor of African and African-American Studies. She has a handful of published journal articles and other publications related to her research interests and expertise. In short, although Harvard does not specify the necessary qualifications to become president, Dean Gay shares similar accomplishments as past presidents, making her a qualified candidate.

Cynics are already whispering that Gay was named to her position because of her race and gender. However, there is a more likely reason: She is the perfect candidate to carry forward the disastrous bureaucratization of American higher education. Indeed, Harvard Magazine reported in its August 2020 issue that then-Dean Gay had announced “a series of initiatives to address racial and ethnic equality – including faculty appointments and the addition of an associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and belonging” despite Harvard already having an entire office dedicated to “equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging.”

The fact remains, as figures released by The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression show, that there are now more administrators than there are teachers in our colleges and universities. Harvard’s administrative payroll has nearly doubled between 2002 and 2020. Indeed, Harvard, as of 2020, spent $47,706 per student in administrative expenses. Administrative bloat accounts for the enormous increase in the annual cost of attending Harvard College (approximately $80,000 annually not including personal costs.) In this respect, Harvard is typical of other colleges and universities. Even state institutions have experienced this bureaucratization, with accompanying explosive tuition growth. If most of college administrators were laid off, one result would be a drastic reduction in what it costs to attend college. In addition, of course, our campuses could return to educating rather than indoctrinating or training students as seems to be Dean Gay’s goal with her plans for racial justice rather than academic initiatives.

The dire effects of administrative bloat are obvious, yet possible solutions are difficult to imagine. Alumni would be wise to withhold annual contributions unless and until their alma mater assures them that their donations will go toward education. Donors – including alumni – should demand to know how their money is spent. And at schools where alumni have the opportunity to vote for members of administrative bodies, vigorous election campaigns should be the order of the day.

Seeking to practice what I preach, in October of last year, I announced my candidacy as a petition candidate for the Harvard Board of Overseers. Although I ended up not securing enough petition signatures to be placed on the ballot (the number of signatures required having been substantially increased since my prior attempt), I will now run as a write-in candidate when ballots go live on March 31. I plan to carry on my battle against administrative bloat from the inside if I win a seat.

Harvey Silverglate is a 1967 graduate of Harvard Law School. A civil liberties and criminal defense lawyer in Cambridge, he is a co-founder, and current Board member, of The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

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