Tuesday, December 04, 2012
A Question for my Readers
This one’s a little bit self-indulgent, but I hope my wise and worldly readers will bear with me. I think the answers will be of wider interest.
For the folks who crossed over from faculty to academic administration: when you settled into your new role, what surprised you the most?
I found it interesting how much more complex issues are when seen from both faculty and admin "sides" simultaneously. This wasn't surprising in the abstract, but interesting nevertheless.
Perhaps the most surprising thing was learning just how odd, weird, idiosyncratic, and/or myopic some faculty can be. It was surprising to me the extent to which some faculty live in an alternative universe. (Actually, I remain surprised by this even now that I am no longer in admin.)
A subtle change in emphasis seems to take place once a faculty member becomes an administrator. They seem to develop the mindset of typical corporate executives, under which bottom-line issues become more important that the educational goals that the college or university is presumably there to serve. It is not because a professor suddenly moves over to the dark side and turns twisted and evil as they move into administration. It is more due to the fact that once a faculty member becomes an administrator they become more intimately aware that just about everything that the school does costs money and that the books need to be balanced if the school is to stay in business.
However, there is a subtle change in overall administrative philosophy from the purely academic to something more closely aligned to the goals and philosophies of a typical for-profit corporation--academic programs become franchises, students become consumers, donors become investors, the fruits of research become proprietary and secret, faculty members become employees, courses become business products, and other peer institutions become competitors. Pressures on university administrations to cut labor costs has led to an increasing “adjunctification” of the faculty—with each passing year, more and more of the classroom teaching is performed by part-time, poorly-paid workers who get no benefits, who have no job security and who have little prospect of ever getting full-time employment. In the pursuit of lower costs, college and university administrators have outsourced many university functions and jobs, ranging from groundskeeping and janitorial serves, all the way to bookstores and food services. Some university administrators are toying with outsourcing even the education function itself, investing heavily in online educational systems and packages in the hope that costs will be reduced even further. The constant pressure to cut costs has led to stagnant wages for faculty, a steady erosion of benefits, and poverty-level wages for most university workers.
Back when I was teaching at Research Intensive Technological Institute, I remember hearing a talk by a representative of another school (can’t remember the name). The representative said that his school had instituted a system of revolving administrators. Administrators were chosen from among the faculty, they served for only limited times, and then moved back into the faculty and were thrown back in the trenches once again. He argued that this system helped to prevent the evolution of an administrative caste at the school.
The Dean Dad Blog helped get me focused on the kinds of things I could expect with the job along the way. I read all of the posts from the very beginning. Honest.
I was surprised at the way other administrators talked to me in a condescending manner, expecting me to treat faculty like children.
I was also astonished that any mention of feasibility of any project thought of by the College President and his representatives was anathema. We Faculty were just supposed to devote countless hours of uncompensated labour to humongous exercises in futility.
It was not a good fit, thank goodness for revolving administration.
One thing that strikes me: every committee I've been on has been pleasant. We're a team; we laugh; we recognize when we have our quirks; we get the project accomplished.
Second thing: My advising office handles freshman orientation, graduation requirements and exceptions, and undergraduate research. Many faculty teaching undergrads vaguely know there are some people out there who deal with those things, but aren't really clear on who they are or what called or how to find them. This surprises me. (I admit to being like that in the old days. Also, I am at a tremendously decentralized university.)
-The attitude of some faculty who seemed to think that you forgot everything about teaching the moment you "crossed over".
-The expectation to do 50 hours or more, mostly coming from other administrators.
-The complexity of issues when all sides are to be taken into account (That's why I love this job!).
-The loss of "free speech". As a faculty, I could almost get away with speaking frankly. As an administrator, especially at my previous college, I had to weigh every single word. Sensitivities and "high horse jumping" I found asymmetrical between administrators and union representatives.
-The political games between managers.
-The fact that mediocre managers could thrive.
-The number of things that can go wrong in a college, and that can be solved within a day.
-The "from a different planet" faculty.
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