I am a historian of education who uses college and university newspapers to gain insight into students’ higher education experiences over time. I also look to those archives to identify issues and concerns that, historically, students deemed important enough to write about. Consequently, I take the work of student reporters very seriously. For that reason, I am writing in response to the article entitled “Administrative hires exceed those of faculty as needs change,” published in the October 13 Bowdoin Orient. I am disturbed by this article’s misrepresentation in the increase in the number of “administrators” at Bowdoin between 1980 and the present. I am equally concerned by the way my views are misrepresented in the story.
On September 26, I met with one of the article’s authors to discuss “the rise of administrative positions at the College.” During our initial discussion, I spoke about higher education in the United States broadly and commented: “It is absolutely the case that, over the course of the past few decades, what you might call administrative bureaucracy at many institutions really has mushroomed. So there’s been a dramatic increase—a disproportionate increase—in the number of administrators compared to faculty.” I then explained why, relative to other institutions, this was not the case at Bowdoin.
Rather than accurately reporting my claim, the student edited my quotation in a way that suggests I affirm the assertions he made about Bowdoin in the story’s first three paragraphs. I do not. The rise in “administrative hiring” at Bowdoin has been limited compared to that at many higher education institutions. Indeed, it was in response to my claim that Bowdoin has not experienced an explosive increase in administrative hiring relative to other institutions that the student presented me with a graph indicating that the College currently employs over 300 administrators. (This is the graph that accompanies the story on page four.) This claim is incorrect, and so I asked him to produce his data source. He informed me that he used a list of College employees printed in the 2009-2010 College Catalogue.
Hoping to correct the student’s misunderstanding, I obtained a copy of the catalogue. I explained to him that the term “administrator” is, in practice, not used in the same way as the term “Officer of Administration”—the category under which many college employees are listed in that catalogue. I showed him, for instance, that the catalogue’s list of Officers of Administration included staff members in the Library, the McKeen Center, the Health Center and the Outing Club. It also lists the person who, at the time, coordinated the OneCard Office.
I then pointed out a second problem with the student’s interpretation of the data. The student compared employees listed under Officers of Administration with employees listed under a second category: “Officers of Instruction.” Some employees, however, are listed under both categories, which makes drawing conclusions from contrasting the number of employees on the two lists problematic.
The third problem was that the student used a 2009-2010 catalogue to draw conclusions about the present day.
I identified these problems for the student and urged him to reconsider both his data source and interpretations. I also hoped that he would take what he learned from our conversation, reframe his investigation and work to identify relevant and timely sources of information for his report. He chose not to do so.
When I grant an interview with the Orient, I do it with the understanding that many of the student reporters I meet with are still learning the practice of journalism. I also expect, however, that the “nation’s oldest continuously published college weekly” will maintain a high standard for accuracy and representation in its reporting. It needs to do better.
Charles Dorn is a professor of education, associate dean for academic affairs and associate affirmative action officer.