COMMENTARY: Academic Management Primer II: All BIS Are Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others

Notes from the front line of art-science crossover education and a follow-up to Academic Management Primer I.

Vintage poster modiied by the authors


We recently published a primer for executive leaders at higher education universities [1]. Within it, we presented a model for how leadership can remove departments they want gone while making it seem that the departments themselves are to blame.

We were pleased to see how many leaders read our primer and provided valuable feedback. Along with positive comments, we got requests to make the model more in tune with the most fundamental needs of leadership today. Let us say, “Executive leaders, we hear you and are on it!

Our model focused on the number of students a department needs to have contact with to justify its existence. We presented a way to calculate a ‘magic number’ that is just beyond the reach of departments you want gone. The number, to the outside world, appears fair and achievable. Yet, it is also skillfully gamed such that your loser departments cannot hit it [2]. Once those departments fall short, your only option is to cut them. No blame falls on you, as the departments failed to step up.

A focus on student numbers follows a leadership policy that started in Great Britain and spread to Australia. It was originally referred to as “Bums-In-Seats.” Now that it has reached US shores, where we don’t hold to English words, it’s called “Butts-In-Seats.” Let’s call it BIS [3]. The basic idea is that low BIS departments are unpopular with your clients and inefficient in using your funds.

Unpopular and inefficient departments have no value and need to go.

As it involves counting, BIS justified the rise of executive leadership roles to help with the counting. It also fueled a rise in consulting companies to help universities implement BIS policy [4]. That fed the economy by creating more well-paid consulting positions [5]. These are clear positives of BIS, but, as a leader, feedback to our first model made clear: It is time to modify BIS to align it with the bottom line needs that you face as a leader.

Your bottom line is not about B’s (as in BIS). It’s about the value of B’s. Every B is an income unit (IU). To avoid forcing executive leadership to juggle conversions between dollars and euros and yen and crypto, let’s define a Basic Income Unit (BIU). A BIU is the monetary value of one reference undergraduate student at your university. A useful reference is an in-state student who pays full tuition [6].

With the concept of a BIU in place, we can state a truism all executive leaders should know: All BIS are created equal, but some are more equal than others. The truism follows from the fact that, at the modern neoliberal university, BIS does not equal total IUs. An example of this reality is that low-income students (LIBs) who receive university support pay lower tuition. In comparison, out-of-state students (OSBs) pay higher tuition, and foreign students (F$Bs) pay even higher tuition on top of that [7].

Those realities need to go into your calculus for determining the value of a department, and that calculation moves us beyond BIS accounting.

As a leader, your focus is not so much on the number of students but on the net undergraduate tuition revenue that any of your departments brings in. Only in a long ago and forgotten world–where all undergraduates are valued equally–would that equate to BIS.

So, say it again, leaders: All BIS are created equal, but some are more equal than others.

Executive leaders at airlines have already come to grips with that reality and adjusted their business schemes accordingly. Airlines are inclusive in that all seats are open to all. But all seats are not valued the same, or are all butts in those seats valued the same. Executive leaders of higher education can adjust, just as airline leaders have, following our BIS to BIU-modified model.

Our original model can be modified to quantitatively convert our ‘magic number’ into a BIU equivalent, allowing for BIU enhancements (e.g., OSB-IU or F$B-IU) or downgrades (e.g., LIB-IU).

You’ll be happy to know that we have done so, and furthermore, we are happy to share the results [8]. For now, the qualitative adjustments you will make are as follows:

  • You still use our magic BIS number in public practice. It is better to announce a number requirement to the public as they may not be as comfortable with pricing individual students as executive leadership is [9]. When doing executive accounting, you adjust the number to a BIU metric [8]
  • If a low BIS department or two happens to hit a BIU requirement, you now look like a caring leader, as it will allow you to magnanimously spare a department or two. Hint: Announce that you are doing that in the name of a liberal arts education.
  • Reward your highest BIU departments by giving them added resources for the next year while lowering resources for low BIU departments. Tell your workers (faculty and staff) that this provides a needed ‘incentive’ for all [10]
  • The rewards/penalties above are not zero-sum to departments because revenue is set aside for leadership funds that allow you to adjust to changing landscapes (e.g., acquiring real estate to enhance public service within your community [11])

The lesson here is this. Leaders learn from leaders, and in developing our BIS-BIU model, we learned from leaders in the airline industry [12].

The next level iteration of our model benefitted from a different form of leadership–leadership that knows the value of parents. As a university leader, ask yourself how much the parents of your BIUs matter to you. They often flip the bill and are willing to extend themselves to give their child the best possible experience and the greatest rewards.

Keep that in mind as you read the following assertion. Parents know how their children can dream of going to Disneyland. The dreams lead to pressures to save for a Disneyland vacation. Parents also know the disappointment their children can experience when they get to Disneyland and are forced to wait in long lines with the masses. It’s unfair and not fair unnecessary. Leaders realized that a fairer experience would allow parents to enhance the basic experience with things like a gold pass that allows their children to skip a line or two.

That inspiration leads to our new gold-line product, the BIS-BIU MMModel [14].

Just like tuition and leadership salaries, the working version of the MMModel doesn’t come cheap [13]. We can, however, provide a tasting tour of its bold vision and excellence. A departure point is the Bayh-Dole Act. That Act allows universities to profit from faculty research via patents or ventures with start-ups [15]. Valued departments that take advantage of this should grow, and ones that cannot tap the revenue source should be downsized [16]. Accordingly, students who major in marketable departments are highly valued BIUs as they justify the growth of those departments. Students who inexplicably choose slacker departments are calculated as downgraded BIUs, which, in our thinking, is akin to a LIB-IU.

The BIU up- and down-grades come into the equation twice–at budgeting and admissions. Leadership determines admissions, and would-be BIUs are asked to pre-state majors. A marketing narrative is provided to parents about how certain departments provide no job skills [17]. Parents will opt for the gold-line ticket to support their needed cuts [18]. A kicker is that F$B-IUs tend not to apply for majors in English, philosophy, history, etc. Investments in an international presence can further load those numbers [7].

The restructuring that comes from our BIU adjustments will serve leadership in political relationships from either side of the aisle. Making higher education about job skills will accomplish important outcomes. First, it can remove overly progressive, ‘woke fields’ (e.g., ethics) from the curriculum [19]. Second, it can spare students from being threatened by challenging ideas, which is definitely not part of vocational training. That way, the university can become a big safe space like Disneyland [20]. Depending on the political mood of the day, leaders can play up one or the other of the above, with revenue opportunities following accordingly [11]).

Students are often given accommodations should their personal situations justify them. For example, some students need extra time for exams. Students should not be made to feel uncomfortable by having to justify their needs. Parents know best what their child’s personal situation is and should be allowed a say. They are clients and deserve a seat at the table should they opt for one. Our model respects that. For a BIU up-grade, parents can get the enhanced experience of informing university leadership of students’ specific needs. That, in turn, will provide BIU-justified accommodations for their child.

Leadership has already seen the value of serving clients by ensuring they get the grades they deserve. Parents are paying for B’s in seats not for B’s on grade sheets. The downside is that companies who hire outgoing BIUs do not have enough time to interview all the A+ students. Our model leverages this unintended downside in leadership’s favor. For an added BIU up-grade, parents can ensure that when, for example, McKinsey & Co. comes to call, their child gets preferred seating in the interview room.

There is more to our model, but you get the gist. Our model is a logical endgame to neoliberal insights that universities best serve society by adopting a corporate worldview and business modes of operation. As university leaders, you respect students and parents by valuing them as paying customers. Valued customers are entitled to an enhanced product experience should they want one.

If our model benefits leadership while removing deadweight workers, that’s just customers voting with their feet– with some guidance from leaders and consulting firms. Higher education remains equitable and open to all. All are valued.


Notes and References

[1] Lenardic, A., and Covington, A. (2023). Academic Management Primer: How to Cut Departments and Come Out Blame-Free, Future U – Neoliberalism in Higher Education, Oct. 20,

[2] Our model showed how the magic number for cutting departments could be gamed lower than what US News and World Report used for University Rankings. As a leader, you want to be ranked high, and you know rankings favor smaller class sizes. So, you want to promote that your average class size is 20 students or less (the number US News uses). A specific example from our original primer showed how the magic cut number could, using the logic of our model, be 18 in year one and drop to 17 in year two of cuts. Our model allows you to justify cuts while promoting the valued “lower class size.” As an executive leader, you get to have your cake and eat it too. (You’re welcome!)

[3] As an executive leader, you know or should know the value of using as many acronyms as possible. It signals that what you value is speed and efficiency, both in how you restructure your university and in how you communicate that to the masses ( ).

[4] Executive leaders can’t do everything, so consulting firms ease the burden. There is another upside. If changes you make as a leader lead to negative effects (e.g., needless lay-offs without lowering tuition), then you, as a leader, can come off blame-free (do you sense a theme?). You were only following the advice of a respected consulting firm, i.e., ‘the best available advice.’ Consultants are also not accountable. Consultants only give paid advice. They are not responsible for how the advice is used or if it leads to negative effects. They get paid regardless. It’s the nature of being a consultant (a leader of sorts) because of its blame-free work without skin in the game. With executive leaders and consultants free of downsides, you can blame university workers (i.e., faculty and staff) if things go south. That means the proposition w in-win for all leaders.

[5] An example of how consulting fuels the economy comes from a firm that many university leaders have turned to: McKinsey & Co. From Pro-Publica: “Hiring McKinsey is a famously expensive proposition. A single junior consultant — typically a recent college or business school graduate — runs clients $67,500 per week or $3.5 million annually. For $160,000 weekly, you get two consultants, the second one mid-level.”

[6] A reference tuition unit may not be the same for all universities. By allowing you to adjust the reference unit, our model lets you make the claim that your budgeting model was designed for your university by your university. The public and your workers will eat up that personalized touch. However, aside from a reference shift, the workings of the model will be the same across all universities. That will save you the unneeded headaches of coming up with a custom plan while also allowing you to build community with leadership at other universities – doing things the same way creates a shared bond from one leader to another.

[7] The BIU revenue you, as executive leaders, put into branding your university ties into this reality [Twitchell, J.B. (2004), Higher Ed, Inc, The Wilson Quarterly, 28/3, pp. 46-59,]. Projecting an international presence also ties in (e.g., following the Ivy League and Ivy-adjacent policy of having a summer campus in Paris). Branding and an international presence are not designed to appeal so much to reference BIUs.  Rather, it’s part of the strategy to attract out-of-state and, more ideally, out-of-country students whose value comes with a BIU enhancement factor.

[8] In our first primer, we provided our entry-level model for free. That was a sign of how much we care about higher education. That said, you can’t expect excellence for free. After all, that’s what you, as leaders, tell your clients when tuitions rise.  Our taster model showed how much more excellent we are than other consulting firms. Providing it for free showed how bold we are (bold is an excellent branding word). So, we are now ready to satisfy your leadership needs. Send Leader Lenardic or Leader Covington a request for pricing quotes on algorithms to convert our entry model to a BIS-BIU model.

[9] There is historical precedence to confirm this. See, for example, A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (

[10] Enforced competition between workers is a way to build comradery while squeezing out low-revenue departments (survivors of budget games will have a shared bond). As leaders, you are removed from the competitive accountability. It would be unfair to blame you if the university’s value drops. The blame for that would be with workers who misapplied and/or misinterpreted your newly imposed policies.

[11] Baldwin, D.L. (2021). In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities Are Plundering Our Cities, New York: Bold Type Books.

[12] As a leader, it is a good strategy when talking to clients, workers, or the public to stress how many other leaders you talk to. A good example would be to preface any changes you impose: “After discussions with city leaders in politics, business, and entrepreneurship, we have decided that the best path forward is to …”

[13] As leaders, you know it should not come cheap. You set your tuition to be at the level of universities you aspire to, no matter how high, as a signal to parents that you are of equal value. Imagine the tarnish to your brand if you offered lower tuition. We all know ‘you get what you pay for’ and ‘cheap is cheap’ (one can even add that ‘perception is reality’). The higher price signals that our MMModel is better than what you get from other consulting firms [5]. Trust us. You’ll get what you pay for.

[14] The model is, indeed, named after a certain mouse. Adding some whimsy to your’ leader-speak can go a long way, especially with nostalgic parents.

[15] This comes with two added bonuses: 1) Universities are still viewed as serving the public good regarding tax purposes; 2) Many of the research ideas that allow for privatization were originally funded by government grants (i.e., by public tax dollars). See, for example: Lenardic, A. (2023). Innovation at University, Inc., Future U – Neoliberalism in Higher Education, Sept. 2,

[16] Patents rarely come from history departments, and eager start-ups aren’t knocking on philosophy department doors. Engineering and business departments, on the other hand, produce marketable ideas that can be sold back to the public (even as you maintain non-profit status).

[17] Blackwood, S. (2023). Letter from an English Department on the Brink,  The New Your Review, April 2,

[18] Parents will also see that some majors, with their enhanced educational rewards, should come with a higher effective BIU entry fee. Tuitions can still rise even as low BIU departments are cut in the name of reduced costs (e.g., leadership discretionary funds need to grow as cuts are made; good leaders, who save money by cutting departments, become more valued, and salaries must rise to reflect that). For this reason, it’s important to maintain a marketing strategy that reassures parents that rising tuitions reflect added value – you get what you pay for [13].

[19] Snyder, C.A. (2023). A Liberal Education in Name Only, Inside Higher Ed., Oct 23,

[20] Lukianoff, G., & Haidt, J. (2018). The Coddling of the American Mind, New York: Penguin Press.


AL&AC 231222  Thanks to Leslie Chan for introducing us to the concept of a BIU.

Cover graphic: Vintage airline poster modified by the authors.

Anthony Covington, esq., 1-800-UCiteMe.


  1. Adrian Lenardic January 29, 2024
  2. Adrian Lenardic January 31, 2024

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