GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘Administration’

Who Is This “Admin” You Speak Of?: Some Myths of Alternative Academics

In Guest Blogger on 2012/12/13 at 10:17

The alternative academic career path has recently caught a lot of attention from all angles of academia, in part because of the state of the job market for PhDs and in part because more and more alternative academics are talking about their career paths. However, this does not mean that many in academia know what an alternative academic career entails, especially when oftentimes alternative academics are filed under “staff” or “admin.” These misconceptions open the door for other erroneous views, such as the idea that staff and faculty are on opposite sides of the academic table. We seek to dispel some of those myths in an attempt to bridge the gap between staff and faculty as well as clarify what some alternative academics do.

1. Who are administrators anyway? Many faculty seem to think that anyone who’s not faculty is an administrator. But for example, in Brenda’s Women’s Center, the violence prevention coordinator is not faculty but not an administrator either. Liana’s official title is Program Associate at her school’s writing center. In reality, between the two ends (administrators and faculty) there are a lot of other jobs that provide services to faculty and students. Unfortunately, when conversations about funding in higher ed turn to the financial “bloat” that administrators add, many of these student services get lumped in. Would faculty who complain about said bloat want to eliminate the victim services position (which would not save the university a huge amount of money)? If so, are they willing to fill out orders of protection? Interview young women who’ve been raped, stalked, and sexually assaulted or harassed? If we want to support and retain students who have survived sexual violence, someone has to do this work. If not trained staff, then who? This detail often gets lost in the conversation about bloat.

2. Administrators are evil. Is it true that there are some bad administrators who are self-serving and only out for themselves and don’t care about the institutional good? Yes. But then again, there are faculty and staff who are like that, too. The majority of administrators with whom we interact are well-meaning people. We need to dispel the notion that faculty automatically equates to “good” and “admin” to “evil.” There are faculty who don’t care about students, and there are staff who genuinely try to make the lives of students better…and who get their funding slashed every day. One can disagree and argue about the value of student activities, but the fact is that the people who work there are for the most part genuinely interested in helping students.

3. Administrators don’t know teaching. Faculty members are an important part of the learning process that goes on at universities, but staff members are also part of that process. Many staff members teach; for example, Brenda teaches several courses at her institution. Liana taught before coming to the writing center, and leads workshops on writing on a regular basis. The work they have done in the classroom influences their approach to their work with students outside of the classroom. Moreover, the, the co-curricular work we do is vital for the education of students.

4. Administrators do not engage in research. Plenty of alternative academic folks continue to publish, attend conferences, and conduct research. Although this does not apply to all staff positions, many do or are interested in academic research that influences their work with students. Although faculty may receive more support for their research endeavors, many staff continue to challenge themselves intellectually through research. Our daily jobs can be intellectually stimulating without the pressure of the “publish or perish” culture. We admit, however, that this can easier for staff in non-science fields, as scientific research often requires a lab affiliation.

5. Admin hours are M-F, 8-5. This myth implies that staff jobs are somehow “easy” because we “only” work 40 hours per week (opposed to the 60+ hours some faculty members can put in). While it may be true that one’s schedule is (sometimes) 8 (or 9) to 5, those work hours tend to be jam-packed with meetings, research, appointments with students, workshops, etc. It is also true that many staff jobs require more than 40 hours per week and/or evening and weekend work. In Brenda’s case, for example, evening and weekend events can easily add many hours to the week. And it doesn’t matter if she was at work until midnight for an event — if orientation is at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, she is still expected to be there. Email still needs to be answered and if you spend the majority of your day in meetings, then the email will be answered in the evening or on the weekend. Liana oftentimes has to work evenings and weekends in order to meet the needs of different student populations across three campuses.

Alternative academic positions are a legitimate option post-graduate school but one of the reasons graduate students may feel ambivalent about this alternative track could be related to the idea that staff and faculty are portrayed as being opposed to each other. In reality, it does not have to be an either/or proposition. Libraries, student support services, educational technology all fill in the gaps between opposite ends of the spectrum. Moreover, many alternative academics who are admin or staff turn to these careers because they want to work with students. Eliminating some of the myths around alternative academic positions can help legitimize these careers as well as help faculty, staff, and administrators work together for the good of students.

Co-authored by Liana Silva and Brenda Bethman.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Forays into a Temporary Administrative Position: Being OIC

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/09/03 at 00:03

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo in the Philippines.

As a faculty administrator with a travel schedule that gets me away from my station, I rely on a small group of dependable colleagues (who need to be tenured faculty) to act as officer-in-charge (OIC). I literally live much of my official life vicariously through a parade of OICs who have to make routine and (less often) controversial decisions in my name. At the opposite end, I haven’t had much experience being a temporary administrator. I recall only two times in recent past: one for a week supposedly as a “dry run” for my eventual assumption as Division chair the week after (but curiously, I served only a few days of this appointment); second as a 2-day OIC director for the Oil Spill program. Both of which were short, and frankly, unremarkable. I just had to deal with travel orders, payment vouchers and other bureaucratic things which require the boss’s signature or else somebody won’t get paid. In general, the expectations are low for an OIC: you show up, you sign papers, move things along, anything major you leave behind for the real man/woman to take care of.OICs fulfill the one basic requirement of a traditional society that puts premium on face-to-face engagements: being physically present. Come to think of it, I haven’t even seen a University manual or guideline regarding temporary positions and responsibilities.

The relatively “low” expectation of performance in OIC-ships does not apply to the Director of Student Affairs post. As the office responsible for the concerns of UPV’s 2500+ students (dormitories, students organizations, student-related activities, etc.), it is NOT a job for the weary and faint-hearted. As in many occasions, students get into scrapes, and if they do, the Student Affairs director (or his substitute) is expected to trouble shoot. I know enough of this trend from conversations with previous directors to not consider applying for the post: staying up in the city jail to process and eventually bail out a student who tried to hold up a taxi; camping late at a hospital to attend to an ill student (en loco parentis you are); mediating between two warring fraternities; appeasing guests at a major event for the rather untimely display of student male genitals during the famous Oblation run…the list goes on.

But reciprocal demands of friendship led me to accept a week-long stint as temporary student affairs director, during which I cut my first mettle. Two weeks prior, a fatal tricycle accident led to one student’s death, 2 seriously injured and scores of students traumatized for having witnessed the event. Despite prodigious debriefing sessions conducted by Psychology faculty members, there was gloom and a sense of ill foreboding on even the much-awaited student event of the year, the Hinugyaw (a themed fashion competition between academic groups). During the same week, the city campus dorm also had their Open House. Any other time, I would have skipped these events (in the past I use this week off to do field data gathering). Societal niceties require that I be present in both, even driving 80km back-and-forth the two campuses in inclement weather. In between, news came to me (via an SMS from the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs) that one student was hospitalized for a “nervous breakdown.” That prompted a series of calls to the student’s friend at the hospital and a teary conversation with the mother. While sitting through 3 hours of deafening student cheers and pouring rain over GI sheets at the Hinugyaw, I had to track down by SMS the roommate of said hospitalized student and co-organization members to go talk to the distraught mother.

Lessons learned: (1) An administrator requires a distinct skill set from an academic. I just do not have the emotional wherewithal for these kind of things; (2) It is tougher dealing with students than adult faculty members with whom I can be frank and persuasive. I did not realize until being an OIC director how little I know of what students do outside of the classroom – the sheer range of extra curricular activities they are involved in. (3) being director of student affairs is the toughest job in my university – on call 24 hours for the largest number of clients.

They were lessons worth learning.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Taking Care of (Administrative) Business

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/06/14 at 03:58

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, in the Philippines.

In academia, the summer break inevitably leads every professor to confront the very tasks he/she has put aside during the busy semesters of teaching: finish that research project; complete that journal article or book; catch up on more readings of favorite authors; brush up that syllabus; weed/add class materials, etc. To many, summer is really not a breather of one’s academic self, but merely a dedicated time to concentrate on things other than teaching. Except for the shorter library and office hours, and the minuscule number of students roaming about campus, summer is business as usual to many of us whose work follows wherever one goes.

My May summer vacation is different only in one regard from my regular semester: I am in the United States rather than my post in Iloilo City, Philippines. Although labeled as “official travel”, in actuality I am running my Division’s affairs as Chairperson from wherever I can get access to the Internet. Since landing, I have written letters of all sorts– requests, endorsements, explanations, justifications, committee appointments, reports– to my bosses bearing electronic signature (which, fortunately for me, the Dean and University officials accept as official). Remotely, I arranged for our Division to conduct a series of training with employees of the Department of Social Welfare and Development; part of our extension activity. I advertised, received applications and arranged to hire substitutes and lecturers for the first semester, which begins in June 1.  From whatever convenient desk I can open my laptop, I troubleshoot on course offerings and faculty loads- answering distress missives from the College Secretary about needing to open more General Education sections for incoming freshmen, a new recruit who suddenly pulled out because of legal encumbrance from her current University affiliation, and a faculty member who asked to defer going on study leave the last minute. Not even the 12 to 15 hour time difference could absolve me from delivering timely advisories to colleagues who are returning from or about to go on prolonged leaves of absence (for graduate studies or sabbatical). With email, one never really has time off; not even if one is 9,000 miles away.

Summertime is also a period of deadlines for research project proposals or travel grants.  Therefore, if I wish to do something productive in the next calendar year (which begins June 1), I must turn in my applications during the summer. The writing and accomplishing of forms needed at home had to be wisely interspersed with sightseeing and visiting family and friends. Electronic connectedness, while a bane to my existence as Division chair is also a blessing if I were to turn in proposals in time. Another plus is that I am able to supervise a team of field researchers back in the Philippines through Skype. I have never appreciated electronic bank transfers until now; and the power of Google voice which allows me to place relatively cheap international phone calls to the Philippines.

But alas, the writing break which I sought and planned to use to anchor my summer days has long since disappeared from sight. Except for the two full days spent slogging over materials at the Library of Congress last weekend and yesterday getting my bearings at my University of Maryland College Park Library, I have not made progress on the writing bit. The pile of books (marked for relevant chapters) at my UMD office stares at me with alarm, asking, “why haven’t you read me?” Just like a colleague at Johns Hopkins who similarly laments having not done any writing since he took a 4-month sabbatical, I am inevitably torn between doing my job and fulfilling life goals.

Summer is just like any month of the year to an academic and administrator with a full plate. The illusion of summer idylls are only for those without deadlines to meet. Regardless, it is a privilege and a treat I truly relish that I am spending my academic summer in another country where I could get access to materials, get connected with the right people, network, relish cool weather, grab pizza, cheesecake, pulled pork sandwiches and lots of other caloric-laden sinful treats I couldn’t get in the Philippines. It’s my version of happiness.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Administration Ambitions

In Janni's Posts on 2012/01/21 at 02:06

Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, Britsh Columbia in Canada.

I have something to admit: I know that I eventually want to go into administration. Please continue reading! I realize that within higher education there is often this us vs them mentality. It is us (instructors, graduate students, support staff and more) vs. the at times faceless, nameless enemy, the administrators. We are the 99% on campus and they constitute the 1%. But, I have to admit that during the last few years, I have had lots of conversations with colleagues and family about what I would do if I had an administrative role on campus. We academics talk lots, and part of this talk includes constructive comments and perhaps even some criticism. I partake in these conversations, but I always get to the part of “what would I do to fix this.” And, my sense of justice and desire to mentor students has meant that I want to go into administration in a role where I will help students or oversee student issues.

My first paid job was as a tutor. I continued tutoring throughout my undergraduate days and as a Graduate Student, I found the Teaching Assistantships rewarding. It is no exaggeration to say that I probably love teaching more than I did in 1998, when I taught my first class, but I also have come to realize that there is work to be done in administration. We also need more women administrators and I know that the only way to change this is to actually take the leap and go into administration. I have no desire to stop teaching, though. I also know that there are certain units in campus that I have a natural inclination toward.
One of the best parts of my job is the repeated opportunity to mentor students. I find that I can mentor in the classroom, but the really priceless moments take place during my office hours. My office hours as an Undergraduate Advisor in the Department of Political Science offer those teachable moments for me and my students. When I saw the posting for the Associate Dean of Academic Advising, it looked like a perfect fit for my skill set and desire to help students on campus. I am not going to lie; right before I clicked send my heart was fluttering. I sent my dossier and hoped for the phone call—the one that informs me that I made the shortlist. I got the phone call and my interview is next month.

The reaction by some co-workers has been surprising. A few were surprised that I would entertain having an administrative role and leave the classroom. One remarked that it is unfortunate that good instructors (reference to reputation and university evaluations) go into administration. I understand the unease, but think that a university needs people who want to go into administration and these people should enjoy teaching, mentoring, research, and service.

The interview is in early January and my fingers are crossed. But the reality is that if I do not get the position, as an Undergraduate Advisor, I will work closely with the new Associate Dean to support projects to improve advising on campus. Either way, the good news is that the committee perused my dossier and shortlisted me. The next time there is another administrative job that is in my area of interest, I’ll apply for it.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Being Curious

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2011/04/25 at 01:57

Itir Toksöz, writing from Istanbul, Turkey.

The day I am writing this, I am sick. I was supposed to go to the Polish Consulate to do a visa application this morning, as I will be teaching at one of our partner Universities for a week there next month within the Erasmus Exchange Program. I woke up with a runny nose, sore throat, aching muscles and fever. Actually there were the signs that I was catching a cold or a virus or something by Saturday but I thought I would get over that quickly. I did not. So I could not go to the consulate to do my application and I called work and told them that I would not be able to come to work today. I have to give two tests to my students in two separate courses tomorrow so I need to get my batteries charged to be able to go to work tomorrow.

However, as everyone knows, a runny nose and a sore throat are not good company for sleep. After I called in sick, I went back to bed and I turned around and around but could not sleep and I decided not to fight against my mind’s will to stay awake and instead, preferred to do something useful. I took all the articles I had saved to read on the new research I am doing on the Space Programs of the Emerging Powers and started to read them one by one: China, India, Brazil, Iran, Pakistan, and the EU, among others.

I realized that I was hardly ever bored during the day; on the contrary, I was reading with such a degree of hunger. I had a clear mind which was ready to absorb the maximum amount of information and I also simultaneously organized my paper-to-be in my mind. I realized then that the last time I had read consistently for research was many months ago. Shouldering an administrative work load had really left me deprived of the greatest joy of being an academic: being curious and going after what I am curious about.

Then I realized that there was more to this line of reason. I was especially happy to be reading on space policy because the topic was providing me with an opportunity to merge my sci-fi loving child self with my adult and academic mind. One profession I had in mind as a childhood dream was that of becoming an astronaut. I was a clever kid so it did not take me long to realize that I was not born in a country which was qualified as “space-faring” at the time (and is not yet space-faring today). I had to drop that dream. Still, ever since I was a kid I have followed many science-fiction TV series (the original and the later versions of the Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century etc.) and films; read my share of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Stanislav Lem; followed science magazines and spent long evenings looking at the skies to figure out which star was which.

Now that I think about it, it is a wonder that I did not aspire to study astronomy or something similar. In a way, I was a kid with multiple interests and my curiosity about the cosmos was accompanied by my deep interest in all things social and I chose my place in social sciences. However, my child self apparently found a way of coming back and finding me and saved me from academic hunger and boredom at the same time on a sick day.

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.

The Virtual Chair: Academic Management by Remote Control

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2011/01/13 at 04:44

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from the Philippines

After two decades in the academe, I have purposely avoided being nominated to any administrative position. This came from an earlier conviction that I would rather be a serious scholar than a paper-pushing bureaucrat. Because the pool of would-be university administrators seems to draw disproportionately from a handful of PhD holders, I thought it was a great disservice to have such expensive education wasted on the banality of managing. Besides, being tied to a desk job is the antithesis of my desire to travel abroad.

I was finally persuaded to be Division chair after my junior colleague decided to step down unexpectedly. My motives were mixed: I felt that I ought to “take a turn” as a way of giving back to my institution; to introduce reforms in the way the University does business; to mentor the junior faculty to be courageous and aggressive in applying for grants; and to inspire my colleagues to publish internationally. I bit the bullet but not without reassuring the Dean and my colleagues that henceforth I will no longer accept additional travel commitments from the ones I already have. They all cringed when I posted my personal calendar from November to February (I was going to be away two weeks for every month); and the forthcoming meetings and conferences I expect to attend on a regular basis. My terms were clear: they can have me, but they will have for the most part a “virtual” chair. I won’t observe a 9-5 Monday-Friday routine (my early morning writing ritual is sacrosanct); my electronic signature and email correspondence are official; all intra-department communication (announcements, notices, minutes of meetings, even fund-raising and donations) will be circulated in the yahoo group for the department. I will force the faculty to adopt 21st century technology and its attendant values of openness and expediency (decisions in real-time).

I started with the fundamentals. I had the faculty directory and yahoo group updated; built and publicized a faculty list of recent publication and research (to bring attention to non-performers); examined the office’s finances (particularly the way the faculty fund for conferences is used); worked out relay system with the staff; and established a “perimeter” in the office where I could not be disturbed. I kept a running tab of Divisional concerns (a separate diary) which I noted and crossed out once accomplished. I kept a supply of brewed coffee, tea, biscuits and treats for tête-à-têtes with colleagues, students and visitors. It was fine for the first two weeks I was physically around.

My dry-run, however, as a virtual chair was dismal. Before going to 10-day conference in Austria, I had tediously prepared paperwork and left detailed instructions to the staff and faculty in charge for two activities: the Division-sponsored guest lecture on the Mindanao conflict and the Division status report during the college meeting. The lecture went off without a hitch; the report was a total botch because the secretary did not relay the information to the reporting faculty accurately. With more preparation (and plan B in case the person in charge fails to deliver), I am optimistic that the scheduled publication workshop and the personnel consultation for first semester load distribution in January and February will proceed smoothly, even when I am away in Kyoto and Yogyakarta. Over the Christmas holidays, I was actively posting official communications throughout the yahoo group. Most people responded; others did not (and they will surely get a reprimand). The staff were front-loaded with tasks which must be completed in early January before my plane takes off. I am convinced everyone else’s learning curve on my management style will occur soon.

Can an academic really be good BOTH as a scholar and an administrator? In the sample of my University’s administrators, the answer is no. There simply is no time to do anything else. In my two-month stint thus far, I can very well see how one could get easily sucked into the position. What could be more life-draining than having to face a 3-inch pile of paper to be signed, many of which actually the Chair has no business of (e.g. countersigning student request for overload when such has already been approved by the academic adviser) and to sit through two-hour meetings which can be done over email? But I am determined to be a statistical outlier (meaning, I will publish and research as much as I can) and also to win in my crusade of re-thinking the physicality of being chair.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.



A Course is not a Class is not a Section

In Information Minoration on 2010/11/24 at 12:52

Heather Alderfer, writing from New Haven, Connecticut in the USA

Are classes the same thing as courses and sections?

Simple questions about student data can quickly disintegrate into details too nuanced for most faculty to stomach. I restrain myself from asking too many questions in response: should data be categorized by term, or by year? Should non-degree students and auditors be included? Universities are swimming in data, even if they are siloed in ways that seem to make little sense.

Carefully chosen language can impose a kind of order upon the curriculum; courses persist over the years, classes are a course offered in a specific term, for a specific amount of credit. If more than one class is offered, there are multiple sections; classes have instructors, and classrooms, and meeting times, and exams. (I am sure there are institutions where this terminology is different, and I am very curious about how global institutions use similar words to refer to very different concepts).

Read the rest at Inside Higher Ed (link here)


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