As colleges slash budgets, who’s taking the hit?

Jobs lost in just one state include the equivalent of 880 full-time faculty and around 2,000 part-timers, but also more than 1,000 full-time staff and administrators.

Colleges and universities are cutting budgets by the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars. But what exactly are they cutting—fat or lean?

There are two new contributions to the debate, which is more like a shouting match on many campuses. The two key questions: Are the masses of administrators and executives who sprouted across higher education in flush times taking their fair share of the pain during the current crisis? And will the crisis really force higher education to be more efficient?

Johns Hopkins professor Benjamin Ginsberg has buttressed his acerbic attacks on higher education’s “bureaucracy gone wild” with a new book. But a report out Wednesday from a research group offers a more positive take. It concludes that compared to previous downturns, colleges have better resisted the temptation to balance the books with easy cuts to teaching, and are trying to make structural reforms.

“These guys know that doing the usual round of across the board cuts and waiting for the money to come back wasn’t going to work this time,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of Delta Cost Project, which studies university spending patterns and has sharply criticized “administrative bloat” on campus in the past.

To be sure, college teaching has taken an unprecedented hit during the Great Recession. Universities have cut tens of thousands of mostly part-time teaching positions. That means fewer and more crowded classes, and much more work for the teachers who remain.

The University of North Carolina system has eliminated more than 3,000 positions—mostly adjunct professors—to bridge a $414 million state budget cut this year. The beleaguered California State system—which has lost roughly $1 billion in funding—has turned away 50,000 otherwise admissible students in recent years for lack of resources to teach them.