Message from acting President Sands:

December 13, 2012  

Staff support is key to running a 21st century research university

The popular press has locked on to the term "administrative bloat" in describing staffing changes over the past decade at institutions of higher education. Despite the fact that Purdue is among the leanest of its Big Ten and peer universities in the number of administrators per student and administrators per faculty member, Purdue has been used as an example, citing the 54 percent growth in "administrative employees." Although this number is accurate if defined properly, it is important to consider the context and clarify the definitions.

While the number of administrative staff has increased over the past decade, the growth has been deliberate and directly responsible for or responsive to positive outcomes, including a doubling of research expenditures and historic increases in philanthropic giving.

Academic and research needs, revolutionary changes in technology, and dramatic increases in regulatory requirements all contribute to the need for administrative support at Purdue.

Support comes from many categories of administrative staff members at Purdue, including:

* Administrative assistants.

* Managers and assistant managers.

* Laboratory technicians.

* Research support staff in sponsored programs and at Discovery Park.

* Student support staff across the University.

* Human resources and benefits administrators.

* Statewide staff in the Technical Assistance Program.

* Academic support staff, including advisors across colleges and academic units.

* Staff in Housing and Food Services and Intercollegiate Athletics, which are self-supporting enterprises.

Purdue's Data Digest for academic years 2002-03 through 2011-12 shows that the number of these managerial and administrative staff grew from 1,334 to 2,057 during the period, a 54 percent increase. The broader category of administrative/professional and clerical/service staff grew from 6,975 to 7,443, a 7 percent increase overall. Thus, the principal change over the past decade has been a shift from clerical/service staff support to administrative/professional staff support.

During the same time period, Purdue faculty grew by 14 percent, from 1,734 in 2002-03 to 1,980 in 2011-12. These numbers include tenured,  tenure-track, research and clinical faculty.

The shift in staffing from clerical, service and professional support categories to managerial and administrative support has resulted in large part from:

* Increases in sponsored program support for faculty researchers.

* Job reclassifications from clerical to administrative assistants.

* IT and technical personnel to support the revolutionary adoption of new technologies in all that we do.

By strategically hiring key staff members in areas of need, we allow our faculty to focus on research and teaching and allow our students to focus on learning. The very reason for administrative support is to ensure that our faculty can concentrate on what they do best -- teaching, research and engagement -- and not have to spend valuable time on regulatory and administrative issues, technical support and facility operations.

Among the high-growth areas with notable outcomes is Purdue’s research enterprise. Sponsored program expenditures have more than doubled over the past 10 years -- from $312 million in FY 2002 to nearly $650 million in FY 2012. Over the past five years, the number of research proposals has increased by 20 percent, and the number of larger proposals submitted through Discovery Park, which typically involve teams and require more infrastructure support, has increased by 140 percent.

Staff in research help prepare and coordinate proposals, maintain regulatory oversight, assist in pre- and post-award and center management, and help maintain and operate the University's core and research facilities.

Elsewhere on campus:

* IT staff have dramatically increased research-computing capacity at Purdue, and have developed learning technologies such as Signals and Hotseat that are proving valuable in student success, retention and graduation rates. Signals has since been licensed by other universities across the nation, becoming a new source of revenue. Hotseat will soon become licensed.

* Staff in fundraising have raised more than $200 million per year over the past 10 years toward named professorships, scholarships, programs and facilities.

* Purdue has grown its engagement enterprise, contributing to economic development throughout the state through the Technical Assistance Program, Purdue Healthcare Advisors, Extension's economic and community development efforts and global efforts to help solve some of the world's most pressing problems.

Staff growth is always a function of available resources, strategic investments, faculty needs and necessary financial and regulatory compliance. We will continue to work to maximize our strengths, assess where we can streamline and do the best jobs we can to support our students and faculty in our stated and crucial missions of learning, discovery and engagement.

Note: For additional information and to see how Purdue compares with peer institutions, see the Workforce Growth Analysis prepared by the Office of Institutional Research. Additional data also is available in Purdue's Data Digest.


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