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?


Comments:
- Whether I've agreed with the administrator or not, I've been confident that the administrator had the best possible intentions for the school and I've seen where those intentions played out as positive for the school in the past.

- 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.)
 
The good administrators I've seen

(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
 
We have a new dean, and we're also in the midst of lots of new construction, so there are ongoing negotiations about who gets what space in the new buildings (always a fun situation). When someone asked NewGuy about the status of a beloved faculty gathering place (in a building about to be renovated), he paused and said "I'm sorry, but there's just no way we can keep that." He then went on to explain why, but I was impressed that in an atmosphere where everyone is trying to promise everyone else the moon, he was willing to draw the line about things that just couldn't happen, even when that would be an unpopular decision. If I know he's willing to flat-out say no when things can't be done, I'm more likely to trust him when he says yes to other things.
 
I have loved deans who care about each faculty member as an individual. I also loved deans that provided solutions and not just empty promises. I loved deans who do not play the whole "I am in power; you stink small peon."
 
Administrators who are as fair to everyone they can be in the process and see the big picture and not just the small one standing in front of them. And, while vision is an overused cliche, those administrators that truly have it AND know how to implement it are worth their weight in gold - especially when they know how to bring everyone into the process to effect that vision.
 
I like administrators who, when you bring some issue to them, take on board what you are saying (as opposed to ignoring it or dismissing it) and deal with it in a reasonable manner. That is, whatever they choose to do about the situation, their choice is based on good reasons: things like common sense, facts, consultation with appropriate people, justification, what happened last time it was tried.

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.
 
In addition to everything that's been said so far:
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.
 
When delivering bad news or sharing info about decisions made that might be unpopular, explained the choices that had been available and the rationale for the chosen option.

Offered up resources from the Dean's office to minimize our administrative load (we're not administrators!).
 
I'm thinking of specific instances:

- 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.
 
I'm surprised that I'm the first to say "student and/or learning centered."
 
Annoymous 8:04AM I agree with you.
 
- honest - they say if they don't know the answer to a question, don't ever promise the moon and the stars, they say if things are uncertain

- 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...

ex
 
Agree with much of what's gone above (especially efficient meetings and transparent decision making) and I'll add one more:

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. :)
 
The administrators I've admired:

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.
 
There's any number of people I've liked as people, but almost none I've thought did a good job as administrators in higher education. And that includes myself (I made some monumental blunders during my two years as a dean of an academic program).

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.
 
At my community college in Texas, we had this remarkable director of academic support services. She later became the dean of student services. When I was working in the writing center as a writing specialist, she was my second-level supervisor. She had a very stern demeanor, seldom laughed, so plenty of folks didn't like her. They thought her cold and uncaring. She was far from being either. In fact, she was a passionate student advocate, and was constantly going to bat to try and garner resources to keep tutoring, services for language minority students, returning adults, and at-risk students alive. I respected her incredible work ethic, her efficiency, and her absolute sincerity. I always knew exactly where I stood with her. She wasn't trying to cultivate friends; she was trying to do a good job. Unfortunately, because she was so fierce and sometimes intimidating, she was ultimately reassigned within our district when an incoming female president decided she wanted only passive yes-men and women surrounding the throne. I still miss her and hold her up as a my own personal model of what a community college administrator, particularly one in the student services sector, should be.
 
Hi,
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