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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.

Fear of faculty
December 17, 2008 - 4:52pm

The various tasks that fall to me as Greenback U's sustainability administrator bring me into contact with an increasingly broad range of folks across campus. To start with, completing our greenhouse gas inventory caused me to contact offices and individuals who had (and in some cases, didn't have) useful bases of data (not necessarily in electronic form) about energy consumed on campus. Then, looking at our operational practices -- what we do, how we do it, how we might do it differently -- in order to provide input to our GHG mitigation plan has brought me into contact with an even wider range of administrative functions, offices and individuals. Recently, a combination of thrusts has caused me to spend more of my time with the Academic Affairs side of the university.

In order to encourage/facilitate the inclusion of sustainability topics, issues, and case studies into curricular materials, I've been in touch with a broad sample of Greenback's faculty. Probably only a small percentage, but from a wide range of disciplines and departments. (I've already commented on my experience of the cultural differences between the engineering/science profs and the humanities types. Nothing that C.P. Snow didn't say a lot better, a long time ago.) And in order to affect how academic spaces either dis- or encourage sustainable behavior, I also get involved with academic administrators -- deans, department heads, and the like. Within a particular discipline, I generally haven't found myself having to deal with a dean, for example, very differently from how I'd deal with an associate professor. Different subject matter, but similar personalities, similar dynamics. Maybe that's because the dean was once an assoc. prof, and the assoc. prof might one day grow up to become a dean.

One recent instance, however, has opened my eyes to a potential issue that I know I don't know how to deal with. To date, any project I've been involved in has dealt with faculty, or with academic administrators, but not both. (OK, a couple of committees have had representatives of both, but a committee isn't a project -- a project is supposed to create results.) However, one of my current initiatives depends on the participation of a dean, a number of department heads, and a collection of faculty. For the first time, I get the opportunity to observe (passively, so far) faculty/administrator interactions. No fireworks, at least to date.

But, in a recent meeting with a very senior professor, a comment was made that the dean was "afraid of" the faculty. I don't know that it's true, but I certainly don't know that it's not. And if it is, it's likely to affect how I need to sell the sustainability initiative.

Clearly, I'm on the outside, looking in. I don't (and won't) have the insights into personalities and politics which a faculty member would evolve over time. But I need to identify the opinion leaders among these academicians. On an issue which our president has committed to, I had hoped that the dean might at least be one of those; I still hope that, to an extent.

So, some naive and potentially unfair questions: How likely/common is it for a dean to be afraid of her/his faculty? How likely is that to affect the dean's ability to sell a change initiative? To rally support and elicit cooperation? Is there some externally observable indicator I should pay attention to? Am I going to have to feel my way along blindly, or is there a way I can assess the dynamics of the situation? The health of the relationship?

All suggestions gratefully received.


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