Friday, September 4, 2009

The Philosopher-Administrator Problem

Had lunch with a law lecturer today. The philosopher type, she hated the administration work she was responsible for. She couldn't file very well, missed communique deadlines, got names wrong - the works.

Still, she's given a leading administrative position (in addition to her lecturing hours), one slightly (but clearly) above the average lecturer.

Note: The higher position in an educational institution involved greater administrative responsibilities. From concocting lesson plans to storing them. From creating new presentations to ensuring they're properly compiled. From tutoring students to checking that their numbers and presence at classes tally. From opening up students' minds to handing out their student numbers.

No one denies the importance of the latter group of tasks; a college couldn't run without them (and all credit to the able souls who allow the lecturers to lecture and students to get to classes). The concern, though, is that promising educators and thinkers may be promoted to a higher level at odds with their expertise. Even worse, if this is the career pathway for someone in education, institutions should at least separate the thinkers from the managers, the academics from the organisers.

Some dream up new pathways; others break them. None is inherently better than the other, but confusing the two tends to create more frustration and far lower effectiveness. Don't force your Heidegger enthusiasts to manage the folders and no need to get your logistics expert to learn Wittgenstein.


Todd Nelson said...

You're spot on here, Alwyn.

Why is it so hard to keep good lecturers in the classroom? Instead we heap administrative tasks on them and lighten their teaching load!

I see three relevant talents here: teaching, administration, leadership. I'm sure you could put these talent mixes in a matrix that could help the employee and the HR person determine who should do what.

A can teach well but cannot administrate or lead
B can teach well *and* administrate
C can administrate well but cannot teach
D can teach and lead well but hates administrative details
E can manage people ok but cannot teach, and he delegates admin tasks to an assistant

Problem is we burden too many good teachers with administrative tasks. And we "promote" some who don't like admin and can't do it well. Or they can do it ok, but prefer the classroom. Same idea applies to institutional leadership. The "Peter Principle" comes to mind.

Makes me want to rethink the whole system of program leadership we use. Let teachers teach (and research and publish); and let admins administrate. If some teachers can teach plus plus, fine. But let's not presume it.

alwyn said...

thanks for the comments, todd.

hey, i like that 'matrix' thing you've outlined - maybe all lecturers should be slotted in the boxes somehow. then again, this kinda stuff should be made clear right from the interview, right? **then again** one could also say that multi-tasking is a 'necessariy' in today's "fast-paced" world and thus people are EXPECTED to know admin stuff too - in which case my days are numbered (grin)