In April 2014, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault issued a series of recommendations for college and university campuses related to responding to and preventing sexual assault. Given that one in five college-aged women endure a sexual assault, the White House is to be applauded for prioritizing this issue and for organizing the task force. But of course, it should be so simple to recommend that campuses do the right thing.
One of the first recommendations, and one that the group is pushing to become a legal mandate in 2016, is that schools undertake a campus-wide climate survey. The goal is to assess the true degree to which attempted and actual sexual assaults are occurring, given that this remains among the most under-reported crimes, as well as to better understand students’ experiences with reporting and receiving services. It would seem as though there would be little opposition to such a recommendation, as clearly understanding the scope of this huge problem and identifying gaps in services would be a good idea for college or university administrators. Yet immediately many campus officials responded negatively. Why, one wonders?
The primary concern that campus administrators levied was that this would be an unfunded mandate that would require additional staff. That is, in my assessment, a very weak point, but one that reflects a growing problem on campuses: the need to bureaucratize everything. For instance, in an interview for the Huffington Post, Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, stated “We get very concerned about legislation that requires additional staffing.” Nowhere in the recommendation does it actually state that new personnel would be required, however.
Kruger’s comment is indicative of the administrative bloat that characterizes higher education today. The first instinct of so many campuses is to hire new administrators to oversee required or even recommended programs. A report by the Delta Cost Project titled “Labor Intensive or Labor Expensive: Changing Staffing and Compensation Patterns in Higher Education” found that, between 2000 and 2012, new administrative positions, largely in student services, was the reason for a 28 percent increase in the higher education workforce. Administrative bloat has been cited as one of the primary reasons that the cost of obtaining a college education has outpaced the increases in healthcare and housing costs. A 2010 study by the Goldwater Institute found that administrative ranks grew twice as much as did the number of faculty between 1993 and 2007. It’s not just new staff, either. Colleges and universities love to hire consultants to study every possible thing, often at huge expense and little return.
Instead of hiring new staff or consultants, campuses could look to utilize their faculty who have expertise on sexual assault to coordinate climate assessment surveys. This would be beneficial for many reasons, not just for the bottom line. First, it is likely that most campuses have a number of faculty members who really know this issue well and who would be eager to be involved in bettering their campuses’ understanding of and response to sexual assault. Second, faculty could involve student researchers, who not only would have valuable insights about the issue but would gain important research, advocacy, and leadership skills through their involvement in the process. Third, using knowledgeable faculty and student researchers would ensure that the tools created and recommendations made were most appropriate for that specific campus, not simply a generic effort. Finally, keeping the research in house would demonstrate a real commitment to understanding sexual assault and developing unique and progressive responses and prevention efforts. In contrast, hiring another person or consultant to collect this important information suggests that administrators merely want to do what is required, rather than what is, as Vice President Joe Biden called it, a moral responsibility.
Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology. Her column is syndicated by Peace Voice.