Another Rubber-Stamped UVA Budget, But Some Useful Discussion This Time

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors unanimously approved a $5.9 billion budget for UVA in 2024-25. The $2.4 billion budget for the academic campus in Charlottesville represents a 6.8% spending increase over the current year. The budget also includes $3.3 billion for the UVA medical center and $76 million for the College at Wise.

Although the Board session was free from controversy, Board members did lay the groundwork for deeper analysis next academic year when Governor Glenn Youngkin’s appointees will comprise a 13-to-7 majority of the Board. In the scant time allowed for discussion, the Board addressed two critical topics that had been missing from the Ryan administration’s presentation of the budget: faculty productivity and the size and cost of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion bureaucracy.

Board member Doug Wetmore got straight to the point regarding DEI spending, asking point blank, “What’s the DEI budget for the upcoming year, and how does it compare to the previous year?”

The DEI budget is $7.5 million, answered Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis, who added that the number includes the cost of the EOCR (Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights) office, which is charged with enforcing federal civil rights law and is folded into the Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

Davis’ figure was significantly higher than previous numbers provided by UVA, which had held that the University spent $5.3 million on DEI. Davis noted that the EOCR case load had increased over the past year and the budget includes contingency funds for more investigations. The conversation got technical as Davis explained how UVA classified someone as a “DEI” employee.

Board members also asked for headcounts broken down by faculty and staff — data that the administration had not included in its presentation and did not have immediately on hand — and queried Provost Ian Baucom about how the University evaluates faculty productivity.

In other discussions, Davis highlighted savings under the Pan University Operational Efficiency and Effectiveness initiative undertaken with the assistance of the Boston Consulting Group. While the University has identified three broad “areas of opportunity,” the only tangible savings she could point to at this point was $4.6 million achieved by combining the purchasing power of the academic division, the health division, and the Wise campus. There is more to come on savings from financial and back-office operations, she promised. “We’re on that journey now.”

Bert Ellis, a Youngkin appointee, has repeatedly asked for information about the size and cost of UVA’s administrative staff. His requests for data have been rebuffed, and the administration has declined to provide comprehensive data on growth trends.

The administration did provide a 30,355 figure for total workforce, including the health division, in its budget presentation. The academic division accounted for 19,177 employees. But, when asked, no one could readily provide a breakdown of that headcount by faculty or staff.

The university does track that data on its Institutional Research & Analysis (IRA) website, but the numbers are impossible to reconcile with the figures in the budget presentation. The year-old IRA data, current through the fall of 2023, counts total employment of 18,878 full-time and part-time employees for the entire UVA enterprise and 10,893 for the academic division. It is inconceivable that academic-division employment could have increased by 76% in a single year to match the budget presentation. Clearly, there are different methodologies for counting and reporting the number of employees.

While the Ryan administration may possess the data, managing workforce productivity does not appear to be a priority. The institutional research office tracks the number of employees mainly for the purpose of classifying them by race, ethnicity and sex, in keeping with the administration’s emphasis on “equity,” not for measuring productivity.

Payroll accounts for roughly 70% of the academic division’s costs, but the budget presentation provided no discussion of hiring trends, faculty productivity, staff productivity, or the rightsizing of departments in alignment with the number of students taking courses or majoring in the field. Management’s discussion focused mainly on the connection between employee compensation and the University’s ability to compete for talent.

A common criticism of higher education generally is that full professors enjoy the highest pay and lightest teaching loads while underpaid grad students and non-tenured professors carry the bulk of the teaching load.

Wetmore asked how the administration measures faculty productivity. Provost Baucom answered with an explanation of how faculty are evaluated, which includes measures of academic productivity but none of enterprise-wide economic productivity. The easiest metric to track, he said, is the amount of sponsored research and grants faculty members generate. But many professors don’t generate grants. For them, Baucom said, the University relies upon annual peer evaluations, academic awards, books and articles published, the number of academic citations, and involvement in “service” activities. Measuring professors by the number of students they teach is problematic, he added, because classes vary so much in size. Furthermore, advising graduate students and undergrads on their theses is a labor-intensive activity that cannot easily be captured in statistics.

The discussion about DEI is a subset of the larger issue about the growth of administrative staff. In its analysis of the DEI bureaucracy at UVA, Open the Books, a government-spending watchdog group, classified 235 employees (including student interns) as DEI with a payroll of roughly $20 million. In a second-round analysis, it identified a hundred more individuals whose jobs include DEI functions.

The administration has disputed Open the Books’ numbers. Some “DEI” employees perform administrative, non-DEI work. The student interns aren’t engaged in DEI at all; they volunteer to teach local school kids to read. Open the Books arbitrarily added 30% for medical care and other benefits to the salaries, even though part-time employees don’t qualify for those benefits. EOCR employees should not be included, even if they report to the vice president for DEI, because their functions are mandated by federal law. Some criticisms might be valid, but unlike Open the Books, the administration has never provided its own data or detailed its own methodology.

In response to Wetmore’s question, Davis did delve a little deeper into the DEI numbers than UVA leadership had in the past. One of her statements — that “there have been a couple of different analyses” — suggests that the administration has detailed numbers but has declined to release them. She also revealed that the University applies the DEI classification only to employees for whom DEI comprised 80% or more of their work. This admission made clear that any DEI count will vary according to the assumptions used — by Open the Books, the administration, or anyone else — in classifying employees.

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6 responses to “Another Rubber-Stamped UVA Budget, But Some Useful Discussion This Time”

  1. Randy Huffman Avatar
    Randy Huffman

    The argument that EOCR employees shouldn’t be counted because it’s mandated by Federal Law is nonsense, if they report through DEI then they are part of the budget.

    As for measurement purposes, the concept of Full Time Equivalents, or FTE is widely used to measure staff sizes and to capture the cost for an employee who has differing functions, especially for managers with multiple supervisory roles including DEI. $7.5 million including EOCR does not pass muster for the entire UVA organization.

    Lastly, while a 30% benefit load for full time employees is probably a good rule of thumb, it’s not zero for part time. Benefits include payroll taxes incurred by everyone, and likely part time employees are eligible for retirement benefits, are subject to worker’s compensation and disability insurance, so while medical and a few others are not applicable, it’s clearly not zero.

  2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “Open the Books, a government-spending watchdog group, classified 235 employees (including student interns) as DEI with a payroll of roughly $20 million”

    And… it looks like they are incorrect as has been identified multiple times now in BR. I guess that shouldn’t stop their erroneous figures from being repeated over and over again. That is, after all, how groundwork is laid…

  3. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    one error in the article. The BOV membership will be 13-4, not 13-7. Even more tyranny coming. Academic freedom will be destroyed. Panic. Danger Will Robinson!
    In a sane world, no one would care so much about BOV appointments, but we have been living in TDS world since November 2016 and every institution has been compromised….
    To “Save Our Democracy!!!”
    (Just like DEI, SOD doesn’t mean what you’d think)

    1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      So close you can taste it, eh Walt…

      1. walter smith Avatar
        walter smith

        I have nothing to do with it, but I enjoy your fear. There is a cure for TDS, YDS and BDS, but you wish to remain sick.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    How useful is it really to look at UVA in isolation without comparing to others and having discussions about how to classify or how much DEI , productivity, etc.. which becomes what individuals on the BOV think or believe? What percentage of the total UVA budget is DEI? How does that compare with other peer universities? Seems like from the point of view of some.. find the number and then criticize it as a total waste and advocate zeroing it. Not likely to happen even with a Youngkin BOV.

    Shades of Helen Dragas! I predict!

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