It seems college administrators who make the school budgets are the last to make sacrifices when hard fiscal choices have to be made.

John Hechinger of reports on one professor’s fight against administrative bloat.

J. Paul Robinson, chairman of Purdue University’s faculty senate, strode through the halls of a 10- story concrete-and-glass administrative tower.

“I have no idea what these people do,” said Robinson, waving his hand across a row of offices, his voice rising.

The 59-year-old professor of biomedical engineering is leading a faculty revolt against bureaucratic bloat at the public university in Indiana. In the past decade, the number of administrative employees jumped 54 percent, almost eight times the growth of tenured and tenure-track faculty.

Purdue has a $313,000-a-year acting provost and six vice and associate vice provosts, including a $198,000 chief diversity officer. It employs 16 deans and 11 vice presidents, among them a $253,000 marketing officer and a $433,000 business school chief.

Administrative costs on college campuses are soaring, crowding out instruction at a time of skyrocketing tuition and $1 trillion in outstanding student loans. At Purdue and other U.S. college campuses, bureaucratic growth is pitting professors against administrators and sparking complaints that tight budgets could be spent more efficiently.

“We’re a public university,” Robinson said. “We’re here to deliver a high-quality education at as low a price as possible. Why is it that we can’t find any money for more faculty, but there seems to be an almost unlimited budget for administrators?”

‘Administrative Bloat’

U.S. universities employed more than 230,000 administrators in 2009, up 60 percent from 1993, or 10 times the rate of growth of the tenured faculty, those with permanent positions and job security, according to U.S. Education Department data.

Spending on administration has been rising faster than funds for instruction and research at 198 leading U.S. research universities, concluded a 2010 study by Jay Greene, an education professor at the University of Arkansas.

“Administrative bloat is clearly contributing to the overall cost of higher education,” Greene said in a telephone interview.

Purdue and other public universities, which rely on state taxpayers, have become a flashpoint for anger about bureaucratic spending. State colleges have long been considered affordable havens for those of modest means, yet they have raised tuition faster than their costlier private peers.