Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Administrators You've Actually Liked: An Informal Poll
This one is intended for the faculty, though anyone with constructive ideas is welcome to participate.
Think back to (or about) an academic administrator (dean/VPAA) you've liked and respected.
What was/is it about that person that won your respect?
- The administrator seemed genuinely to care about who the heck I was. Knew my name. Was friendly. Asked my opinion and actually seemed to value it.
- Good administrators don't blame faculty for things that aren't the fault of the faculty (a) nor do they reprimand the faculty for practices that are central to their teaching (b).
- Good administrators don't take faculty for granted and they actually show appreciation for the hard work of faculty.
- Good administrators run efficient meetings that have results at the end of them.
- And then my favorite administrator tells me I rock every time I see him, but it would seem disingenuous if every administrator did that and/or if every faculty member was told that she rocks :)
(Note: All of these items come from real live administrators at my institution. Thanks for this post, because it made me feel very lucky and warm and fuzzy to notice all of the above.)
(a) *know* what faculty do (they know what lots of individual faculty do to make the college what it is)
(b)truly value the work that faculty does and acknowledge and praise the work of faculty
(c)know that part of their job is to make hard choices, and they don't try to please everybody
(d) make a point to include faculty in decision-making whenever possible, and keep decision-making as transparent as is possible
(e) I'll second Crazy's observation about meetings
So even if I may not personally prefer what their choice is, if they listened to me, treated me with respect, and made their choice based on good reasons then I'm fine with that.
Unfortunately I see a lot of that not happening. That's not to say that all administrators are doing bad stuff, just that those instances are more noticable. I don't like this divide. I would just like a nice professional mutually respectful relationship with academics and administrators, and I always try and do that for my part.
But I don't always get the same courtesy in response. It's particularly galling when you're a computing academic and they are trying to insist that they know better than you on some computer-related point when they are in fact wrong.
1. Administrators who follow through on what they say they will do.
2. Administrators who will admit when a screw-up is in their bailiwick, and not just blame faculty.
Offered up resources from the Dean's office to minimize our administrative load (we're not administrators!).
- an administrator who made a choice to cut his own support rather than faculty support.
- an administrator who preserved resources for faculty seed money in a bad budget year.
- an administrator who dealt with a thorny personnel matter without violating confidentiality.
- an administrator who immediately apologized for a goof and promised to rectify it (and did).
- an administrator who pushed colleagues behind the scenes to fix a fairly serious problem.
- an administrator who resigned rather than violate her principles.
- an administrator who told legislators the hard truth in a straightforward way.
There are plenty of those actions out there.
- give deadlines that are 'real' and reinforce them - I HATE busting a gut to meet a deadline from the Centre only to get an email on the day saying 'oh, Chemistry have had problems so you all get an extra week' - and ONLY give deadlines that are real
- do what they say they will, and let people know the outcome, even if the outcome was an 'i don't know'
- appreciate the juggling act that is a faculty job
- Know their stuff - I hate having to email people saying 'but regulation such and such says the exact opposite of what you said in our meeting, which do I follow?' - actually thinking that through, what I hate is having been caught out before and therefore not being able to trust the administrator to know the rules and having to look them up myself even after taking their advice...
- a clear sense that they are committed to the university as a whole, not just to pet projects or to their own career, and that they have a vision based on something OTHER than the accounting bottom line.
- I don't need to agree with them, I just want to be able to feel that they are a person with integrity, that they either know the rules and proceedures or can tell me who to ask for the best answer, and that they see a university as something other than a sausage factory - yes budgetry constraints matter, but our purpose here is not just to make the budget balance, it's to achieve our educational and research and outreach goals in spite of the budget limitations...
I like that my dean provides us with rationale/explanation. There's a lot of nonsense that goes with being accountable to taxpayers, avoiding HR litigation, etc., and my dean is always willing to explain the "why" of the policy and is very honest about it. ("It's pretty simplistic, but the state requires it of all employees," or "We've had problems with X in the past, so we're trying addressing that with a training seminar during faculty orientation.")
People who know WHY they have to sit through ethics training totally unrelated to any of their job functions are a lot more likely to put up with it with good grace. And beyond that, because she's always willing to give me whys and wherefores, I've learned a lot about how the college as a whole functions, which helps me navigate it myself and understand how different functions fit in when students have questions or problems.
Beyond that, administrators who actually back their faculty and stand up for academic freedom are always appreciated. :)
Treat everyone with respect. Everyone.
Explain decisions well. And can gracefully protect confidential information when appropriate.
Aren't sexists. Don't belong to single sex organizations/clubs for networking, don't select only men for opportunities. Don't make stupid comments about "girl" students, or value women primarily in "soccer mom" roles.
On the other hand, I've known a number of people who have worked as upper-level managers in the private sector who I though did their jobs very well.
Why the disparity? Because academics are not genrally trained to be managers/administrators, and when we get manager/administrator jobs, we're thrown into the deep end of the pool with little or no support. Watching people try to discover the decision rules that aren't written down can be painful for everyone. Dealing with people who don't understand decision-making in a group (rather than an individual) context can be painful. Seeing people who are really, really good teachers and researchers struggle to figure out how to change their approach to problems (believe me, making the correct choice about a statistical procedure and figuring out how to deal with a faculty member who's screwing up are not similar decision issues) can be painful.
Higher education is the industry that does the least, I think, to prepare people for management and administration. And we pay the price for it.
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