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: 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
Image: A bit of my salary. KMR Photography, CC BY 2.0.
I don’t work for the people who pay my salary. Or at least, not always. And this shouldn’t be a problem – but I worry that it’s becoming one. Continue reading
Photo: Original by Whispertome via wikimedia.org; released to public domain; clumsy modification by yours truly.
Last fall I was 1/3 of a “teaching triangle”. This meant I teamed up with two other instructors for reciprocal classroom visits – not for assessment, but as an opportunity for observation and then discussion of different personalities and different teaching approaches working with different students in different classrooms. I picked up some useful ideas from seeing differences among my colleagues in how they approach teaching. But much more importantly, the experience crystallized for me something I now realize I’ve been seeing for years: the astonishing differences among students in how they approach learning. 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
Graphic: Organizational chart for a manufacturing corporation, 1896 (from J. Slater Lewis, Commercial Organization of Factories) via wikimedia.org
Thoughts on “A Critique of Universities” – Part 3
This is the third in a series of posts inspired by reading a little book full of very big ideas: Páll Skúlason’s A Critique of Universities (University of Iceland Press, 2015). The book is thought-provoking and extraordinarily lucid. In this series I’ll share a few points from the book, with my own thoughts, but there’s no substitute for reading the book yourself (links below the post).
The university as an organization: collegial or hierarchical?
My first posts in this series dealt with Páll Skúlason’s thoughts (and my own) about what a university is for, and about what a university is. Today, some thoughts about that that means for how a university is organized – and for our cherished notion of collegial governance.
Until I became accidentally entangled in university administration, I was remarkably uninterested in the university as an organization. I had an office and a lab and some classrooms in which I went about my business of research and teaching, and if I noticed the organizational infrastructure supporting this, it was mostly to grouse about how idiotic it all was. Continue reading
Thoughts on “A Critique of Universities” – Part 2
This is the second in a series of posts inspired by reading a little book full of very big ideas: Páll Skúlason’s A Critique of Universities (University of Iceland Press, 2015). Here’s Part 1. The book is thought-provoking and extraordinarily lucid. In this series I’ll share a few points from the book, with my own thoughts, but there’s no substitute for reading the book yourself (links below the post).
The globalization and provincialization of universities
My first post in this series dealt with Páll Skúlason’s thoughts (and my own) about what a university is for. Today, some thoughts inspired by Skúlason’s thoughts about what a university is.
Skúlason suggests that a university is best understood as
a conversation, a place where people who are trying to understand the world and their own existence within the context of a common pursuit for knowledge and learning come together to converse and exchange ideas (p. 13).
While “a conversation” might sound a bit new-agey, in fact this is an important observation that goes back to the revolution in European science in the 1600s. Continue reading
Thoughts on “A Critique of Universities” – Part 1
This is the first in a series of posts inspired by reading a little book full of very big ideas: Páll Skúlason’s A Critique of Universities (University of Iceland Press, 2015). Skúlason was a philosopher who served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and for 8 years as Rector, of the University of Iceland. A Critique of Universities (his last English-language book*) collects some essays and thoughts on the nature, aims, and organization of universities. The book is thought-provoking and extraordinarily lucid. In the series I’ll share a few points from the book, with my own thoughts, but these in no way substitute for reading the book yourself (links below the post).
Three things a university might be for
Universities are odd places. Despite the fact that an increasing large fraction of the public has spent at least some time attending one, I’d guess that very few people could enunciate concisely what they’re for – and among those who could enunciate something, there would be little agreement. Perhaps more surprisingly, I’d have the same problem. Continue reading