Staff and Faculty Blind Spots

6 ways that we get each other wrong.

June 6, 2019

What do staff not get about faculty?

What do faculty not get about staff?

Staff Blind Spots About Faculty:

#1 - Sacrifice:

It can be hard for staff to appreciate just how much our faculty colleagues have had to sacrifice to pursue their careers.  The sacrifices are not only about the rigorous of finishing a PhD.  Many staff - as we will see below - now have terminal degrees.

Getting a faculty gig usually requires moving to wherever a job is available. This means that partners and kids must move as well.  A faculty job is a family affair.

#2 - Hard Work:

A faculty gig often looks pretty sweet in comparison to staff roles.  Especially those tenure-track/tenured jobs. What could be bad about a job that pays you to teach, think, research, advise, and write?

What is less known is how hard professors work.  The professors that I know work all the time.  On average, professors work 61 hours a week.  That number seems low to me.

Nor does work diminish once tenure is achieved.  Hard to believe, but senior faculty work even more than their junior colleagues.

#3 - Bureaucratic Frustrations:

The life of an academic is thought to be built on a foundation of autonomy and flexibility.  Professors are supposed to have a say in the running of the institution through the principle of faculty governance.  Academic and curricular decisions are represented as the domain of the faculty.

The reality is both more complicated and situationally dependent.  At some schools, faculty have more power and authority.  At other schools, faculty governance and autonomy is curtailed.

All professors, no matter the school, must negotiate the institutional bureaucracy.

Faculty Blind Spots About Staff:

#1 - Changing Staff Roles:

In general, and on average, professors have not fully grokked how staff gigs have evolved.  Faculty can’t quite get their heads around why all these staff with PhDs seem to be running around campus.

How staff might be seen as educators and colleagues, rather than in support roles, is a question few professors bother to ask.

The roles that many academic staff play are difficult to describe and understand, even for the people doing that work.  Staff are doing academic work, but in different ways than their faculty colleagues.

Our language for the new roles of non-faculty educators has not caught up with the on-the-ground realities.

#2 - Staff Bloat:

There is an idea that seems to be prevalent among professors that higher ed employment is a zero-sum game.  That every additional staff hire is one less faculty position.

It has become so common to hear that the financial problems faced by colleges and universities are a result of staff bloat that this sentiment has become accepted fact.

There is often (not always, but often) the belief among professors that if only less money was spent on staff, that more money could be devoted to creating more tenure track lines (and pay professors better).

Seldom to professors talk about how staff grow the academic pie.  There is little appreciation that staff do the work that drives enrollment and retention.

#3 - Teaching / Research / Writing:

What does it mean for the faculty/staff divide when staff are also teaching and conducting research?

The main job of staff may not be teaching and research, but this does not mean that they are not doing this work. As more PhDs (and instructional designers) get non-faculty academic jobs, more of these non-professors are also teaching classes and creating knowledge.

Faculty are not alone in their discomfort about the blurring of the lines between faculty and staff.  Our broader higher ed community seems to lack the vocabulary to talk about the liminal roles of today’s academic staff.

What other staff and faculty blind spots do you see?

How might we create greater levels of empathy across the academic employment spectrum?

What are your blind spots?


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