GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Administrators and Teachers: Working on the Same Agenda?

In Anamaria's Posts on 2011/04/22 at 02:07

Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden

I confess having a hesitation when deciding on the title of my post today. Should it be administrators OR teachers? Maybe even administrators VERSUS teachers? Of course the last alternative would be an exaggeration, but I dare you to say that it never felt that there was such a tension at your university. I went with the conjunction AND because in the end this is what I’d like to discuss: the relationship between these two groups of hard-working people who make universities go round.
By administrators I mean not the deans and the provosts and the presidents of universities. For the purposes of the present post I include in this category the administrative personnel that deal with technical matters (the computers in one’s office, the projectors and the stereo systems in the classrooms). In the same category I would place the economists that keep track of the daily expenses of any department, as well as those people who work in the registrar’s and bursar’s offices, the people who order pens and papers and toner for the printer. The people who make sure your salary is being paid at the end of the month. People who are part of the university organization but who do not teach.

I know that there are many readers of this blog who wear different hats: some days they are the administrators and some other days they are the teachers. This is an advantage, as it allows one to be sensitive to the priorities of each of these worlds. Two worlds? Yes! This brings me to one of my main points: my feeling is that administrators and teachers live in two separate universes. These universes must coexist, but it appears that they do not blend into each other but rather survive as parallel life forms, only temporarily connected and who seek, as two magnetic poles of the same kind, to distance from each other as quickly as possible.

The three goals of the university, most generally defined, are to teach, to research and to communicate the results of teaching and research to the society. It should appear obvious that these goals are the same for both teachers and administrators. In many ways universities are just like any other organization, and the work of administrators is to some extent similar to what they would do should they be employed in another company or organization. But the work of teachers is specific to the university. A university without teachers and researchers is no longer an institution of higher education. Therefore it seems logical to me that the relationship between the administrative and teaching personnel should be one of collaboration, where the administrators SUPPORT the teachers.

However, it has been occasionally the case that administrators developed a parallel agenda to the one put forward by the teachers. The teachers’ needs and demands have been judged excessive, and the job of the administrators has been to make sure that the teachers’ ambitions are under control. Why do you need a new computer? Why do you need new software? Why do you need advice on how to report the last conference’s expenses?

In an ideal world, the teachers would present their goals and the deriving practical necessities to the administrative personnel, who would be able to help them achieve these goals. Together the two groups would agree on what is possible, doable and in the best interest of the university. In the less-than-ideal world the teachers’ and the administrators’ agendas are different, and in the worst case, almost incompatible, leading to inner tensions within the organization. This cannot be to anyone’s benefit.

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  1. My response to this post is two-fold because I think you bring up two phenomena that have developed in higher education over the last twenty years that are separate, but a primary cause of the tension you describe: 1. The generous benefits to staff members (lots of times unionized) that keep administrators in their jobs for decades, even when promoting education and research is not of interest to them at all; and 2. An archaic tenure system which, some faculty feel, elevates them to untouchable status.

    As an administrator with a graduate degree in education and a passion for helping students find theirs, I too am frustrated by administrators who huff at the slightest request to do more work or to do what is best for the institution, not what is easiest for them at the time. But I am also frustrated by faculty members who request that staff handle their personal tasks and who often pay no attention to which administrator is responsible for what – I have been asked to do a number of things in my career from making doctor’s appointments to babysitting grandchildren.

    I believe that this is changing with our generation. I have a collegial relationship with young faculty that older administrators do not have with senior faculty. I also take my job seriously, which faculty respect. I must add though, that I disagree with your bold statement that administrators should support teachers. Administrators should support students and institutional research – which usually means assisting teachers, but not always, and certainly not with every request. I agree that a collaborative effort would benefit all parties, particularly students.

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