I confess having a hesitation when deciding on the title of my post today. Should it be administrators OR teachers? Maybe even administrators VERSUS teachers? Of course the last alternative would be an exaggeration, but I dare you to say that it never felt that there was such a tension at your university. I went with the conjunction AND because in the end this is what I’d like to discuss: the relationship between these two groups of hard working people that make universities go round.
By administrators I mean not the deans and the provosts and the presidents of universities. For the purposes of the present post I include in this category the administrative personnel that deal with technical matters (the computers in one’s office, the projectors and the stereo systems in the classrooms). In the same category I would place the economists that keep track of the daily expenses of any department, as well as those people who work in the registrar’s and bursar’s offices, the people who order pens and papers and toner for the printer. The people who make sure your salary is being paid at the end of the month. People who are part of the university organization but who do not teach.
I know that there are many readers of this blog who wear different hats: some days they are the administrators and some other days they are the teachers. This is an advantage, as it allows one to be sensitive to the priorities of each of these worlds. Two worlds? Yes! This brings me to one of my main points: my feeling is that administrators and teachers live in two separate universes. These universes must coexist, but it appears that they do not blend into each other but rather survive as parallel life forms, only temporarily connected and who seek, as two magnetic poles of the same kind, to distance from each other as quickly as possible.
The three goals of the university, most generally defined, are to teach, to research and to communicate the results of teaching and research to the society. It should appear obvious that these goals are the same for both teachers and administrators. In many ways universities are just like any other organization, and the work of administrators is to some extent similar to what they would do should they be employed in another company or organization. But the work of teachers is specific to the university. A university without teachers and researchers is no longer an institution of higher education. Therefore it seems logical to me that the relationship between the administrative and teaching personnel should be one of collaboration, where the administrators SUPPORT the teachers.
However, it has been occasionally the case that administrators developed a parallel agenda to the one put forward by the teachers. The teachers’ needs and demands have been judged excessive, and the job of the administrators has been to make sure that the teachers’ ambitions are under control. Why do you need a new computer? Why do you need new software? Why do you need advice on how to report the last conference’s expenses?
In an ideal world, the teachers would present their goals and the deriving practical necessities to the administrative personnel, who would be able to help them achieve these goals. Together the two groups would agree on what is possible, doable and in the best interest of the university. In the less-than-ideal world the teachers’ and the administrators’ agendas are different, and in the worst case, almost incompatible, leading to inner tensions within the organization. This cannot be to anyone’s benefit.
Anamaria writes from Lund, Sweden. She is one of the founding members of the editorial collective at University of Venus.
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