The Problem with Administration

I know this is an opinion shared by absolutely nobody else but I’d much much MUCH rather we didn’t get administrators from the professor pool and instead hired them from the business world.

Good scholars make terrible administrators. We get no training in how to lead. We spend our lives working either alone or with grad students who are wide-eyed and totally dependent. We have no idea how to motivate our colleagues. It’s just not our thing.

Example. For years, I’ve been on the service program coordinated by a non-academic staff member. Everything has been great. I loved this program. But now it’s been given over to a colleague who’s a brilliant professor and a great teacher. But it took her all of one week to fuck up the program to the point where I just resigned.

The colleague sent us an email saying, “From now on, the 3 of you will do the work that 8 people used to do in the past. This is an exciting opportunity that will help you…” After which I quit because I don’t let anybody condescend to me in such a way. A normal thing to write would be, “Hey, we were only given 3 people this year to do the work of 8. This stinks! Here is how I will reduce the work expected from you by a third to make sure the task is still doable. I’m so sorry for this imposition!” But she treats us like particularly stupid freshmen, and I have no interest in that.

And no, nobody would do that in any business that has any interest in surviving. We like to believe they do because it makes us feel less pathetic but that’s all a fantasy. My sister is hiring a massively expensive leadership coach to train a single employee in how to be a better leader to two other people. The employee doesn’t have tenure, by the way, so she isn’t going to these lengths because she has to. And before anybody says this is an isolated case, my sister is in the leadership of the largest global organization of entrepreneurs. I know more than I ever thought I would about leadership in business.

19 thoughts on “The Problem with Administration”

  1. I agree completely, and I add this: scholar-administrators are not a good thing for students because they are in conflict of interest. I suffered enough to know what I’m talking about.


  2. No. The problem is that they’ve done away with serious service and SHARED GOVERNANCE for faculty and then they put a few in these positions, and some of those aren’t competent. You should see what an all-administrative university looks like — small bureaucrats with LOTS of time to waste and NO idea what a university is or what it does.


    1. Your incompetent chair is a good example. If had the kind of experience he needed to be competent, he wouldn’t be a tool of the administration giving lines away.


      1. Yes, it’s his first time being chair. And I’m sure the last one. But that’s the only way to become chair. To get the job you have zero training for and then find out in the process that you have no idea how to do it.


        1. You don’t have to have zero training for it when you start, if you are working in an institution that actually has shared governance. You’d have had other roles and you’d know what a chair does. AND you’d be involved in your disciplinary organizations and know what is going on there. This person is a tool of administrators functioning as “managers” and it is clearly not working out well.


    2. How can we be competent in leading people if it’s not our job? We never learn how to do it. But it’s a job like any other. You need to learn how to do it.


      1. But it is an aspect of a faculty job, even if many refuse to do it. (They don’t deserve tenure in my view, by the way – it’s a large part of what having tenure is for)


        1. I know it’s part of a faculty job. I’m saying maybe it shouldn’t be. Because it’s making people do stuff they aren’t trained to do.

          Example. We have an all-faculty meeting at the beginning of the semester. It should be a great moment to get people motivated and energized before the start of the semester. But it’s done by the provost who’s a great academic but can’t motivate a starving person to eat. It ends up being a total waste of time.

          Why are we clinging on to this administrative stuff? Because we are so good at it? Faculty morale is high, everybody is enjoying themselves, and we are preserving our tenure lines? Obviously not. We stink. That colleague I talked about yesterday destroyed a review committee that worked beautifully for decades. I think it would have been better if she never became associate provost and just remained a professor, something she’s great at.


          1. Shared governance. But these particular people don’t sound as though they value academics, to judge they way they cannot defend them as administrators. If they are that good as faculty and really want to move up, maybe going on market is a better idea than going into administration.


  3. ” hired them from the business world”

    This could work, but only if you can convince them (really convince them) that their job isn’t about money and they’re not going to get promotions or bonuses for financial achievements – the currency they’ll be rewarded for are educated students (measured by more than class enrollment) and productive faculty (as measured by publishing and teaching and service).

    Even then they’d need to be monitored constantly to make sure they’re not returning to type and figuring out how to replace tenured faculty with H1B1 high school teachers from Venezuela and Chile or thinking up courses in “Sexy tims in Latin America” to amp up undergrad enrollment.


    1. Cliff, that’s a description of the business world admins that do exist, and also of the faculty that has seroconverted into this type of person. And they DO get big bonuses in exchange for getting rid of FTEs, etc.


      1. Nobody got any bonuses for the tenure line we lost this year. It wasn’t part of an evil design. It was simply lack of caring and incompetence. The year before, we lost our German teacher Ed program in the same way.


        1. Oh, from deans and then especially on up, they get bonuses for saving money, esp. in certain areas. And chairs get raises for pleasing these people. Make no mistake.


    2. Every Dean I’ve had at this university was closing tenure line in Languages and saying any native speaker can teach languages for minimum wage. They are all very successful academics. So yes, it can definitely happen with admin recruited from the business world. But it’s already happening with academic administrators.


        1. ” they are applying what they call the “business model.””

          Exactly, but without any practical business experience they’re just sort of incompetent boobs… imagine the damage a dedicated and competent businessperson could do….

          100 people packed into an auditorium while a high school grad (native speaker with no background in language teaching) writes misspelled words on an overhead projector…. 6 sections taught for a fraction of the price of a single section in the old model! Next, we record this and stream it (cancelling the physical classes altogether) thousands of students ‘taught’ for a one time pittance!

          Get a network of competent business people and before you know it you’ve got a new network of ‘journals’ (including some formerly reputable ones) quid pro quo printing articles from each others’ schools (ghost written by undergrads as grade boosters) to raise publication ratings – the academic equivalent of insider trading.

          Liked by 1 person

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