Footwear

Until this year I was a department chair, a position I held for five years.  One of the most important observations that shaped my experience in that role was that I was neither fish nor fowl.  I wasn’t quite administration–I was still expected to teach and engage in research.  And yet, because I had some administrative authority, I wasn’t purely faculty, either.  It was occupying this position of middle management, in fact, that led me to launch this blog.

I’ve crossed somewhat more decisively to the administrative side now, but still feel the tug of faculty loyalties and am quick to give voice to faculty concerns–even if they’re not really mine anymore–in gatherings of upper level administrators.  That said, as I sit in more and more gatherings of administrators, I’ve gained an understanding of–and even appreciation for (gasp!)–some of their perspectives, even when these run counter to the opinion of the faculty.

So, in this installment I offer a few lessons from each side of the aisle in the hopes that some measure of understanding–even it it isn’t equivalent to agreement–will improve relations between faculty and administration where they are strained or in need or repair.  Sometimes we need to put the shoe on the other foot.

Lessons for administrators:

* Most faculty are on a 9-month (or some approximation thereof) contract.  The wisest thing I ever heard said at a conference was that universities should plan on getting most of their important business accomplished between October and April.  Plan accordingly.  And don’t act surprised when faculty balk at administrative decisions made in July.

* Most faculty work hard and play by the rules.  When you create punitive policies that stem from your ire over the faculty member who doesn’t keep office hours or abuses the university’s travel policy or engages in other kinds of egregious behavior you demoralize your chief asset.  Go after the bad actors individually and stop punishing everyone.

Lessons for faculty:

* Faculty governance is holy and should be protected.  But deploy it wisely.  Don’t be an obstructionist for obstruction’s sake.  You discredit this important component of the academic system when you use it as a bludgeon or abuse its purpose.

* An unwillingness to see beyond the narrow confines of “your course,” “your department,” and “your research,” is counter-productive to the larger mission of the university.  You are part of a larger organism.  Of course your teaching and your discipline and your scholarship matter, but you need to acknowledge their place in a larger matrix of decision-making and priority-setting.  Fight the good fight, by all means, but acknowledge, and perhaps even leverage, the role of your course, your department, and your research in the broader work of the institution.

In short, when tensions between faculty and administration sour or hit a rough patch, we get worse at seeing things from the other side.  I’ve argued before for a kind of shadowing as a remedy to this, but failing that, we would be well-served to put the shoe on the other foot occasionally and take these lessons to heart.

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