If your university is like mine, it has a strategic plan. It put hundreds of hours of work (some of them yours!) into developing it, consulting widely and wordsmithing through dozens of drafts. It shouted excitedly about the release of the plan, and how it prepares the university as a leader into the future. And that plan? Essentially meaningless.
Most of the university strategic plans I’ve seen are pretty similar. They identify some lofty but vague goals,* but not how they will be attained.** They promise all things to all people: we’ll prioritize research, and teaching, and community service, and being an economic engine for our region. They might identify some special areas of scholarship in which the university will attempt to excel – but they’ll combine that with language indicating that they don’t mean it (usually, something about “while retaining comprehensive excellence”), and they won’t identify any area of scholarship that the university won’t pursue. In other words: they’re essentially meaningless. Prioritizing everything means prioritizing nothing; and it isn’t strategic to fight a war on every front all at once.
Why does this happen? Continue reading
I hope not; but maybe. Warning: old man yells at clouds.
One of the interesting consequences of being pretty far along in a career is that you see trends*. No, this isn’t a complaint about Auto- Tune in pop music (although to be honest, it could be); this is, after all, mostly a science blog. Instead, what I’m ranting every-so-gently about today is what seems like increasing reluctance to do anything without payment – a gigification of science, if you like.
It’s usually foolish to try tracing trends to their first spark, but I’m tempted to speculate that the furor over “unpaid” peer review was at least an early symptom. Continue reading
My university, like dozens of others, has egg on its face this month. It’s unnecessary egg; and the egg (of course) isn’t the worst problem. All this has to do with the Covid-19 vaccination mandate we recently announced for our faculty, staff, and students – far too late, and after an embarrassing amount of foot-dragging and denial. It was an abject lesson in how to lead a university poorly. What’s interesting is that just about every university in Canada has experienced the same leadership failure (and as I write this, some are still experiencing it). That much concerted poor leadership suggests that there are general lessons to be learned. Continue reading
How do people learn to be scientists? We’re very good at teaching our students how to titrate a solution, take a derivative, label a dissected earthworm, or calculate the p-value from a one-way ANOVA. One might get the impression that learning these skills is an important part of training to be a scientist. Well, arguably they’re not unimportant; but they’re more skills used by scientists that they are skills that make us scientists. In Being a Scientist: Tools for Science Students, Michael Schmidt tackles the much more interesting question of that latter set.
Being a Scientist covers the softer skills that let scientists do what they do: philosophy, creativity, reading and writing, and so on. Continue reading
Photo: This meeting will never end; courtesy Rylee Isitt.
Warning: I sat through a frustrating meeting last week. And now you’re going to hear about it.
We all hate meetings. And yet, at the same time, we love calling meetings. In academia, at least, they’re part of the very foundation of our organizations, which we insist are distinguished from other enterprises by our use of collegial governance. (I’ve argued elsewhere, heretically, that we try to be quite a lot more collegial than is good for us, but that’s not my point today.) In universities, we want to govern ourselves from the bottom up, with the faculty rather than administrators making the decisions. The way we know how to do that is by holding meetings – big ones, and lots of them.
My home department’s Fall 2018 seminar series wraps up soon, and I’m looking forward to next semester’s. We’ve got an interesting lineup of speakers with lots of variety, and I’m very grateful to our seminar organizers for that. Today’s question: who were those organizers? And who should they be? Continue reading
Some time ago, I went on a little rant here, in a post I called “University administrators should understand universities”. In it I complained a bit about university administrators who don’t seem to understand what a university’s mission is or how we go about accomplishing it. I stand by that criticism (while noting that it doesn’t, of course, apply to every administrator). But I’m here now to stick up for administrators in another way. I’m really tired of hearing people complain that universities have too many administrators. Yes, I heard all those folks clicking away in outrage. For the few of you who are left, let me explain.
Twice just in the last week, I’ve seen university professors roll out the tired old attack on administrators. Continue reading
Image: The #CSEETweetShop team. Left to right: Shoshanah Jacobs, Morgan Jackson, Dawn Bazely, your truly, Cylita Guy, and Alex Smith. What a great group!
At the 2018 conference of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, I was part of a lunchtime workshop, “The How and Why of Tweeting Science” – along with 5 friends. Here I’ll share my slides and commentary. I hope the other presenters will do the same, and I’ll link to them here as they become available.
Image: Two-spotted tree cricket singing, © Patrick Coin CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Warning: a little bit grumpy.
I’ve just come back from a highly successful Departmental retreat: high turnout, engaged faculty and staff, and some genuine problem-solving. But just as a sidewalk sighting of Manute Bol might make me realize that some of my friends are rather short, our successful retreat reminded me of a weird but not altogether surprising thing about university faculty. That thing: everyone loves collegial governance, right up until somebody calls a meeting.
As a general rule, university academics feel very strongly about collegial governance. Continue reading
Photo: Brunel University campus, © Brunel University, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Warning: I’m grumpy today.
In my current role as Department Chair, I deal with a lot of administrators. Some are academics, serving as Chairs, Deans, Vice Presidents, and so on. These folks are doing important jobs (and you should consider joining them), for which they often don’t get much respect. Others – and these other ones are my subject today – aren’t academics, but rather professionals of other kinds. They may be human-resource managers, legal advisors, office administrators, accountants, financial clerks, risk-management directors, and on and on. The list is nearly endless, which is no surprise given that every university needs to operate itself, and universities are large and complex organizations. But I have a beef with some (not all!) of this non-academic group: they don’t always understand what a university is. Continue reading