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
Image: Books 5 – 9 in Louise Penny’s Three Pines series, featuring Armand Gamache.
“I don’t know. I was wrong. I’m sorry”. Lacoste recited them slowly, lifting a finger to count them off.
“I need help”, the Chief said, completing the statements. The ones he’d taught young Agent Lacoste many years ago. The ones he recited to all his new agents.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, knows a lot about homicide detection. Gamache is the protagonist of Louise Penny’s Three Pines series of crime novels. Over 15 novels so far, Penny has portrayed the usual assortment of crimes and their solutions, but also (unusually for the genre) Gamache’s approach to managing and mentoring the earlier-career detectives assigned to his unit. His management philosophy can be summed up as willingness to utter, whenever appropriate, the Four Statements:
- I don’t know.
- I was wrong.
- I’m sorry.
- I need help.
These work very well for Gamache in the novels. I’ve found they work pretty well in science, too. 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
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
Image: just the first six pages of the stultifying detail in my 37-page CV
A while back on Twitter, someone asked which details she should keep track of on her CV – in particular, I think, with respect to multi-authored conference presentations. All the details, I replied, which answer was promptly and rounded derided. Why, a bunch of people asked, should anyone care about the 13th of 17 authors, the month or date of the conference, or the city it was held in? Why bother? Why keep the 37-page version of one’s CV – the version that’s (metaphorically) clogging up my hard drive*?
I couldn’t convince those who were deriding me, and to be fair, they had a considerable advantage: common sense and logic were entirely on their side. Continue reading
I just finished serving on a Vice Presidential search committee. I think we made a great choice (time will tell, of course). It was obvious, though, that many of my colleagues could never be satisfied because they’re deeply and irredeemably suspicious of anyone willing to take on an administrative job.
One of the most frequent complaints I hear is that administrators are “out of touch” with the faculty and with their roots in academia. Continue reading
Photos: The Vasa on display in the Vasamuseet, Stockholm, by JavierKohen via Wikimedia.org, CC BY-SA 3.0. Cross-section of Vasa, model in Vasamuseet, photo S. Heard.
I’m writing this post in Stockholm, where I’ve come to be the “opponent” (= external examiner) for a PhD defence. I tacked on a few extra days to see some of the Swedish sights, and none was a bigger treat than the Vasamuseet (Vasa Museum).
The Vasa was a Swedish warship launched on August 10, 1628. She also sank on August 10, 1628, which was tragic for the 30 people who died in the sinking and a pretty major embarrassment for everyone else in Sweden (then).
Why did the Vasa sink? Continue reading
Photo: Belding’s ground squirrel, by Yathin S Krishnappa via wikimedia.org; CC BY-SA 3.0.
I think I’m typical as a scientist in that I spend a lot of time doing things that don’t seem to add to my research productivity – in fact, they take away from it. Yesterday (as I write) I gave a guest lecture about writing in somebody else’s grad course. I review manuscripts and grants, serve as an Associate Editor, sit on grad student supervisory committees, consult with colleagues about stats, serve in academic administration, and on and on. Actually, our whole academic system depends on us doing these kinds of things – things that (at least on the surface) seem altruistic. For an evolutionary biologist, apparent altruism always raises a question: Why? Why do academics do things that seem to benefit others, not themselves? There may be a variety of reasons, but increasingly I’ve come to understand my own career as heavily influenced by academic inclusive fitness. Continue reading
Caution: curmudgeon ahead.
If you’ve been around universities for a while (and believe me, I have), I’m sure you’ve heard someone suggest that it’s time to think outside the box. Often, it will be an upper-level administrator: the notion that it’s good to think outside the box seems to be some kind of virus transmitted by contact with offices containing nice furniture but no journals. (An important note: administrators are not (all) evil. I’ve done my time in administration, and you should too. But I’d be lying if I tried to convince you administration was entirely free of vacuous sloganeering.)
What might it mean to think outside the box? Usually, it seems to mean deciding to do something that nobody else is doing. This is sold as creativity, and if you don’t think very hard, that’s a pretty appealing prospect. Who wouldn’t want their programs to be unique and their initiatives to be trailblazing?
Well, me, for one. Continue reading
I blogged a while ago about being the reasons people go into academic service, in particular as departmental Chairs*. I suggested that the vast majority of academics don’t take on such a job because they’d always dreamed of doing it, or because it comes with prestige or pay or other perks. Instead, they take on the job because somebody has to do it, and because our whole system of collegial governance would grind to a halt if we all depend on Chairs but nobody is willing to do the job.
That argument might seem to confirm your preconceptions about being Chair. You might think it’s largely a thankless job (and you’d be right). You might think you’d have to deal with some very unpleasant problems (right again). Continue reading