Recently, a supervisor remarked that I am “too Americanized” and lacking in good-old-fashioned sensitivity [pakiramdam] as Division chair. Clearly, my brand of managing has critics. But as I constantly remind myself and my superiors, I only get half semester load credit for my administrative job. To live the other half of my academic life teaching, doing research and publishing, I have to follow work practices that will get the admin job done in a University machine that is in “low” gear (read: slow decision-making). To administrators, here are some unsolicited operational tips, guaranteed to get you through:
- Yahoogroup and Chikka are your friends.
To ensure that announcements get out, vital information disseminated, and work assignments done in real time, Yahoogroup and Chikka (a free web-based text messaging system) are lifelines. You don’t check your email; you lose. The old excuse “I was not on Miagao campus” no longer flies.
As Chair, I find the yahoo platform useful because it gives me a de facto filing system, stored in my mail program, which I can access by a quick word search. It is also a good discussion platform on academic issues. In Yahoogroup, colleagues can let others know what they are up to or articulate support or discontent, supplementing the paucity of face-to-face encounters found in our split campus situation.
Teach your old staff new tricks.
Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Rather than complaining that the staff never does enough, I devised a method to keep them busy. First, new tasks. Capitalizing on Sam’s internet-savviness, I taught him to abridge lengthy notices into concise messages for Yahoogroup postings and use the Yahoogroup attachments as “virtual” filing system for letters and reports I send for printing. Bing, the other secretary, writes periodic reports and make silly tables, leaving proofreading to me! Second, I email them daily/weekly notices of tasks to keep track of the things to be done. This makes for easy justification to the human resources office why the staff deserve an excellent performance rating. Third, relay system. I am told when either one is out of office; unfinished work endorsed to the other staff and notice of absence POSTED at the office and in the Yahoogroup.
Create a cheering squad by delegating.
You may do things faster and better, but giving work to others spreads a sense of accomplishment and pride. To this end, I tap mostly junior faculty members-- assessing transfer/shifting applications, faculty scheduling, creating content for the university newsletter and website, crafting proposals for curricular review, lining up lectures, etc. For socials, I nurture a pool of reliable committee workers committed to team spirit. I am the rah-rah leader, humble in asking favors for unpaid committee work and generous in positive feedback for the job done well.
All Division affairs are an open book.
Gossip, that insidious element which foments conflict is easily defeated by prior disclosure of facts. To minimize the politics of hiring/firing and promotion, I opened the process heretofore reserved for the Division personnel committee for discussion of the concerned disciplinary cluster. Where there is lack of consensus, the entire faculty is brought into the loop to gain legitimacy for a majority position. I am known to post in the Yahoogroup lengthy chronological process accounts and decision briefs for my faculty’s reading pleasure.
Put it in writing.
John Nagl, one of the brains behind the US Army Counterinsurgency Manual, says it’s important for any current commander to think about the day when he turns over his job to the next guy. To this end, keeping a thorough record of lessons and insights is critical. It is time consuming to document all agreements, guidelines, decisions and standard-operating procedures, keeping them in paperless version and in a virtual location. It takes an obsessive-compulsive personality to do this; but it’s essential for the “norming” process of the organization.
Administrators in my university are known to crash and burn after their term. As I have no ambition to go further up the administrative ladder, a good management template for other subsequent Chairs to follow is enough of a legacy to leave behind.
Rosalie Arcala Hall is a Professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.