Thursday, October 20, 2011

recognize administrative work in tenure decisions!

One of the sadder elements of the current difficulties in the university is just how little sway the faculty-- the people who actually disseminate and generate knowledge-- have in decisions about the fundamental structure of the university.

Here's what I mean specifically. It really does seem that, though there are a variety of factors, the biggest individual contributor to rising college costs is administrative costs. As I've told you many times, a lot of these issues are intertwined: more administrators is both a function and a cause of the rampant mission creep of universities, the rising number of activities and services that universities provide for students... which cost money. Now, part of our duty to tamp down these costs certainly involves cutting programs, which will be painful but necessary.

But there's always going to be administrative tasks that have to happen. Part of the rise in administrative costs stems from the fact that jobs that used to be performed by faculty members are now performed by dedicated administrators. That means that you've got to pay another salary and for another set of benefits, and since the university tends to give employees living wages and generous benefits packages-- to its great credit-- this is expensive. You might assume that faculty members want it to be this way, but many faculty members actually would relish the opportunity to take over some of the administrative duties that have been farmed out. (Personally, I'm pursuing a designation in writing program administration in my own doctoral program.) Benjamin Ginsberg wrote a really great primer on these issues called The Fall of the Faculty that I recommend to anyone with an interest in higher education.

A lot of the job of clawing back these appointments and responsibilities simply has to come from the upper levels of university leadership, and potentially from the state legislatures when it comes to public U's. But we also need to demonstrate to faculty that this work is valuable and valued within the institution. That's why it's imperative, if the faculty is to regain some administrative control and if we're to reduce costs, that we factor administrative duties into the tenure review process. I don't have a strict formula here-- a full year as a program admin is the same as one journal article, etc.-- but there's got to be allowance made for the fact that this is important, time-consuming work that should be professionally valued. Faculty members who feel the great pressure to publish have to know that they aren't endangering their careers by taking on this kind of work. This problem needs to be alleviated from above the faculty level, but it's also got to be addressed within the apparatus of professional advancement.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

It already is, in a number of ways.

1. Admin work is usually regarded as "service" and so counts as a plus on your tenure application. Though to be fair, compared to research and teaching, tenure committees care about service a lot less.

2. If you do take on full-time admin work many schools will give you extra time on your tenure clock.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm with A3:06p; I'm under the impression that service (or as I've heard it, "committee work") is counted on your tenure app. -K.

Anonymous said...

I'm analogizing from another profession here (law), but might one of the reasons for the withdrawal of faculty from administrative work be that faculty are not very good at it?

I don't mean to say that faculty members can't do admin work or that they can't at least learn it. My argument is more from specialization. In law firms, the handling of administrative tasks is increasingly done by non-lawyers, particularly as firms grow in size. Similar to your own anecdotal evidence, many lawyers would actually like to be doing this work (and not paying someone else to do it). But experience has shown that lawyers frankly suck at these tasks. In fact, lawyers generally suck at all business-related tasks, and many of the most successful large law firms are managed by non-lawyers. In the end, lawyers have spent years training to perform a set of specialized tasks, and they are quite (sometimes shockingly) amateurish when it comes to figuring out things like whether the firm should hire another lawyer.

So, particularly in large universities, could specialization and professionalization of administrative tasks be at least one significant cause for the growing number of dedicated administrators, each of whom is hired on the basis of their ability to perform a specific administrative task instead of on the basis of their scholarship, credentials, etc.... the kinds of criteria that universities look for in faculty members but which generally say nothing about how well they "administrate"?

This really is a question.

Freddie said...

It's "counted," but it's not, if you get my meaning. When push comes to shove it rarely counts in the same way that publications do, as I understand it.

Anonymous said...

Sure. But would you want it to be 33% of the decision (with the other 60% being teaching/research), as opposed to the 10% or the 5% it currently is? -K.

VL said...

My comment here is based on 25 years experience in academic science and engineering departments at four universities (including two medical schools within universities). I think we need to clarify what precisely is meant by administrative duties, because there are distinct phenomena that may be getting lumped under one category.

First, the trend I've observed has been to place the responsibility for at least "menial" administrative tasks firmly back onto faculty, with the effect that faculty spend more time on non-scholarly activities and there are fewer administrative staff to help out. In the 1990's NIH and NSF grants included some room for supporting admin staff (e.g. shared secretaries or departmental administrators); this stopped in the mid to late 90's, even before such technological advances as online submission of grants and papers became commonplace. Whereas faculty submitting a grant would once have had an assistant run the copies, make sure all the institutional forms were correct, fed ex the package, and so forth, now faculty themselves are putting hours into submitting grants or papers on-line. (Online submission processes are still often buggy and time-consuming.) There's an argument to be made that this wastes both time and money: faculty get paid more per hour than administrative staff, yet they are now spending many hours in tasks that do not require graduate school training while people who could use a decent job are out of luck. Departments have eliminated more and more of these administrative positions as budgets have tightened (you'll find that most of the costs of administration, which have indeed been growing, have come from higher salaries for individuals in "higher" administrative positions such as deans, assistant deans, assistant associate deans for student affairs, etc.; often these people were faculty at one point and gave up the rigors of scholarship for the relative security of administration). This runs parallel to what's happening in other sectors of the economy: technology is "individualizing" tasks, and lower and mid-level positions are disappearing. Fewer people are doing more work, while upper level positions are burgeoning in number and prestige (incl. $$). (For a non-academic parallel: it used to be the norm to call a travel agent to arrange travel to a conference; now each of us is free to spend hours scouring various web sites to find the best deal, whatever our criteria are, and travel agencies have either disappeared or now cater to very specialized, i.e., wealthy, interests.)

Second, "administrative" work such as what I think you principally mean in this post (e.g., running a graduate program, organizing conferences) absolutely does count toward promotion and tenure decisions, but how much depends on (1) how well the responsibility is carried out, and (2) how well the responsibility is described and its results accounted for in the tenure application package. It also matters how much the candidate does relative to his or her colleagues, i.e., what is considered standard fare or minimum requirement within a particular department. (And departmental microenvironments can differ from one another within the same university.) Exceptional contributions, whether within the department or within the field as a whole, whether as an administrative force for good or a scholar, are valued. But I am loath to suggest that any department try to find a formula to follow -- algorithms do not do justice to the quality of the efforts, whether in teaching, research, or administration.

Nick said...

Assessing faculty publications in the context of other work in the field is fairly easy, but how would assessments of administrative work performed by faculty (i.e. tallying "value over replacement academic") be done?

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