Improving the Ties Between Faculty and AdministrationAngela Walmsley | Associate Professor of Mathematics, Concordia University Wisconsin
Strong relationships between faculty and administration are needed for a healthy and productive work environment.
First, the mission of the university must be understood and held in high regard for all who work there. If both the faculty and administration have the mission at the core of all they do, then the university has the first step in place. The administration often leads the culture of the university, and they must be seen as advocates for both faculty and the student body. This can be difficult because it requires administrators to be “all things for all people” in many cases. When the faculty and administration work together as one team, the success of the university moves forward.
While strong leadership is key, administrators must remember that most often students reflect on their university experience with good faculty being a key element in their success. In other words, a progressive and positive university culture cannot exist without both good faculty and good administration.
Some universities experience problems where the culture is one of “them and us” where faculty are in one camp and administration is in the other. The culture of collaboration does not exist in these types of circumstances. Additionally, if faculty are always feeling that their jobs are at risk, that they may lose budgets, that they are constantly being told what to do, or that they must continually go above and beyond to keep their jobs, they become disgruntled.
Negative faculty can definitely hurt the university because they have a direct impact on students. These students want a good and positive experience where they can grow socially, professionally and academically. Having consistently negative faculty who argue with the administration can affect them adversely. This in turn can affect the retention and growth of the student body which ultimately may impact donation giving as these students become successful working professionals.
Common Misconceptions Faculty Members Have About Administration
Many consider it “going to the dark side” when a faculty member makes the switch into administration. All of the sudden, that person must be accountable to others regarding hiring, faculty load, performance, budget, space, etc. It can be a difficult transition, as many faculty’s primary purposes before moving into administration were focused on teaching, research and service. It is sometimes hard for faculty members to realize that others may want to try administration and the management side of things. It is also difficult for some faculty who saw the person as their friend or colleague as “equal” before but now are “superior.” In reality, administrators are not necessarily “better” faculty—they are changing roles to include institutional management and business.
The other thing that is difficult for faculty to understand is why their dean or other administrator seems to be gone all the time! Many faculty do not realize the time commitments involved in being an administrator, which require university meetings, networking, traveling to conferences, meeting with local businesses, fundraising, etc. Faculty should realize that they cannot walk into an administrator’s office any day of the week and expect them to be there.
Another difficulty for faculty exists when they are reporting to an administrator who has never been a faculty member before and has come from industry or business. There has been a recent trend to hire administrators for business expertise rather than promoting faculty or hiring previous faculty into administration roles. This can be difficult to manage because often those who have spent their lives in academia operate differently than those who have spent their lives in business. They often have different priorities. While a business-focused administrator may be fantastic at budgets and operations, faculty cannot always relate because their primary focus has never been around money or management.
Common Misconceptions Administrators Have About Faculty
The biggest misconception administrators have about their colleagues on the faculty is that they don’t work enough hours and don’t work in summer. By the nature of the work, many faculty are extremely busy—but they are often not in their offices. Faculty are often all over the university teaching in different classrooms and buildings or attending meetings, and they are often home grading, writing, or teaching on-line.
Administrators need to move away from the “9-5 office” concept for faculty. Many universities operate a nine-month contract where faculty can either be off in summer or elect a three-month summer contract (some faculty elect a 12-month teaching contract). No matter what, administrators must honor the time elements that faculty agree to. Being on a nine-month contract really does mean that faculty don’t come in during the summer unless they want to. Many choose to work in their office; many choose to teach; but most spend time researching, writing, or perhaps working on a grant. Faculty are often willing to help when possible but do not want their time to be taken for granted. They also do not want their lack of physical presence to be equated to lack of work.
Getting Past the Misconceptions
Firstly, we need to assess faculty and their desires to move towards administration. Many faculty are not taught how to manage or budget or do any of the things that administration does. It is crucial that we begin to mentor junior faculty or promising faculty who have an interest in administration. We should promote and train from within instead of hiring from outside. The mere benefit of not having the steep learning curve of promoting someone who already knows the institution, culture and people is huge and often overlooked.
Furthermore, many administration positions require previous administration experience. It’s the classic chicken and egg problem where someone wants to try to gain experience at administration but need opportunities. Many of the misconceptions can be overcome when an administrator comes from faculty because they begin to understand “both sides.”
Secondly, anyone in an administration position must be welcoming and approachable. Communication is key when it comes to leadership. Too often this important element isn’t present.
Thirdly, all faculty and administration should use data- and evidence-based decision making. Too often in higher education decisions are made based on who is “in charge” rather than based on existing evidence. If faculty and administration are to be held accountable, they should collect data and use data in their every-day decision making.
Another option for encouraging faculty and administration to work together in a positive way is to take time to show appreciation for each other. It is important to take opportunities to recognize good work done by both and celebrate achievements. I would say that when administration can show a personal connection, it goes a long way for someone to feel part of the institution and want to stay. For example, having the dean cook hamburgers at the opening day of the semester shows everyone who that person is and that they’re engaged with the learning community.
In summary, collaboration is key. Collaboration can only occur when there is mutual respect, openness, and friendliness among both faculty and administration. Both must believe they are working towards a common goal or mission.
Author Perspective: Educator