Saturday, September 18, 2010

An Open Letter to Academic Administrators Everywhere

A college faculty is hard to lead. They are all highly intelligent, and used to an awful lot of freedom in their everyday decisions. Many of them are stubborn as hell. If you pushed a typical college faculty off a cliff, 10% of them would fall up, just to establish the principle of academic freedom. So the number one rule leading a college faculty has got to be: Don't pick a fight with the faculty over trivial stuff. You can't possibly win. You'll get a small handful who will grudgingly cooperate, a larger group that will be outright defiant, and a very large group that will simply ignore you. And a lot of people from all three groups will take it as further evidence that you are a clueless pencil-pusher who has no idea what goes on in a college classroom.

I can think of situations in which you should tackle the faculty.

  1. When you have a legal obligation or a mandate from further up the administrative food chain. "I know you don't like it, folks, but we have to do it."
  2. When you have some actual power to enforce. "If we don't get cooperation with the new policy, we won't be able to fund Project X. Take your pick."
  3. When you have strong support from vocal and respected campus leaders. "On the recommendation of the Faculty Senate, I am instituting the following policy."
  4. When your position is so morally compelling that you couldn't do anything else. "I cannot in good conscience support the current policy."

It helps if you have more than one of the above.

Note, oh administrator, than I'm not claiming that this is the way things should be. It's the way things are. And if you don't recognize it, you're going to have a very hard time.