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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Academic employment - security (3)
May 3, 2011 - 5:31pm

Some folks just never want to leave campus. That is, they come as students, they get work/study or internships, they get low-level jobs at their alma maters (perhaps whilst completing their masters' degrees), and they they work their whole careers where they started out.

Now, this isn't something anyone wrote to tell me; it's something I've observed at Greenback and at a number of other universities. Not small colleges so much -- small colleges often don't have the scale of staffing to enable this pattern -- but large private and major state campuses. Alums go into technical support positions, or lower-level academic administration, or student affairs. They run housing offices, and transit departments, and a good share of the disciplinary departmental offices.

I file this under "security", because my perception is that, for these folks, taking a job on campus was less scary than looking for a job in the marketplace. And the criteria for success were already familiar. And the bus routes were well known. It seems to me that a large part of the attraction was concern (not to say fear, and not to say valid) about leaving the nest.

Now let me point out that this sort of concern -- and the behavior that follows it -- is not limited to academic employees. A lot of pretty good lawyers go into that profession because, in many ways, the game is pretty much the same as it was in the seminar room. And a lot of pretty bad teachers get into the public schools (at least briefly) based on very much the same sort of process.

So what is it like working with folks who never made their first solo flight? Well, it's a mixed blessing. These people often identify strongly (sometimes, very strongly) with their institutions. They want to do whatever they can to cooperate, and to promote, and to burnish the image of their school. And, since their undergraduate years must have been happy ones, they tend to respond well to cognitive approaches. (At least, that's my experience.)

But the downside is that these same folks often look back on their undergraduate years as "the good old days". Their vision of what the school could be is closely tied to what (in their eyes, at least) it once was. And by definition, they don't tend to be risk takers. Which means that change is inherently scary.

So, for folks with a Greenback diploma on their office wall, I generally pitch sustainability efforts as top-down initiatives. I try to tie them to the stated mission of the university, or at least the priorities of the current administration. And I find a way to work in the concept of doing things better than some other school. Conference rivals seem to work best. Go figure.


A bit of a shift in focus:

What do you wish your school would do to operate more sustainably that, to the best of your knowledge, isn't currently in the works? Why do you think it's not already happening? Write me at g[dot]rendell[at]insidehighered[dot]com. Unless you tell me not to, I'll keep all schools anonymous.


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