Monday, March 6, 2017

How Not to be a Dean--A Set of Perverse Lessons


Academic middle managers increasingly find themselves in a bind.  On the one hand they, unlike more senior administrators, tend to be drawn from the ranks of faculty (though nor necessarily of the faculty over which they have been given dominion) and have been socialized  deeply in academic faculty centered cultures.  On the other hand, the emerging cultures of administration--autonomous of and quite distinct from that of faculty centered cultures--require the cultivation of sensibilities that draw middle managers into an increasingly adversarial relationship with the factors in the production of unit wealth that faculty represent.  

Most successful middle managers navigate this contradiction in time honored fashion.  They develop a rhetorics of solidarity with their staff while at the same time embrace the cultures of administration and its quite distinct approach to the management of the production of students through a transnational  web of knowledge dissemination and production.  However, as the cultures of administration and those of faculty increasingly diverge, and as faculty itself begins to fracture along worker class lines (tenured and nontenured full time staff, fixed term faculty, research or teaching faculty, adjuncts and graduate assistants) the natural solidarity of middle managers toward their colleagues will dissipate as well. 

In that context, it may be necessary to begin to think about the ways that this fissure between deans and faculties now shows up in managerial techniques.  This post considers some of the most interesting and telling examples of the perhaps inevitable break between faculty and those charged with their oversight.It is put together as  a set of lessons for the young manager on the emerging rules of managing faculty , the effects of which are likely to be the opposite of what is intended. 

Let folly reign!



1. Adhere to the principle that there should never be a convergence between what one says and what one does.  This is the classic managerial technique of adhering to a narrative that represents an ideal or an obsolete way of looking at unit organization as a smokescreen for acting  n different and no doubt inconsistent ways.  As long as the line is repeated often, faculty will be confused.  And confused faculty mean faculty that can be better managed. 

2.  Treat shared governance as an invitation to cultivate factional fighting among faculty. There is nothing more bracing--or enervating--than the cultivation of divergent views among faculty and the encouragement of those views in the course of faculty governance. Faculty meetings as gladiatorial games heightens the competitive edge of inferiors and ensures that the middle manager can always serve the role as the peace maker or the decision maker in contested matters--which if this works well, are all matters. 

3.  Use praise strategically.  There is no better method of brining recalcitrant high producers t heel than to ignore them or marginalize their contributions.  At some point they must come begging for attention; or they will check out of the institution.  Either way their threat to the administrator's ability to order their unit is lessened substantially. And in any case the administrator can, where necessary, take credit (with superiors) for all of the work done that is marginalized internally. Above all, cultivate the art of obliterating your greatest threats from institutional memory. Though this can be used effectively with the “use rewards strategically” tactic, it also serves in its own right to effect long term discipline on faculty that do not toe the line. And it helps to augment administrative power by dividing faculty—the knowledge that recognition of wok on the media sites of the university may disappear where “unfavored” faculty are involved tends to work well on faculty socialized into cults of recognition.  And it tends to serve as a means of shunning that for those faculty dependent on their university affiliation can be an important motivational act—though of course one the ethics of which is subject to some debate.

4. The art of management is about reducing internal threats to authority. Most superior administrators are willing to tolerate marginal performance form a unit as long as there is peace.  The last thing a senior administrator wants are constant delegations of inferiors (faculty) complaining about this or that., or worse, reading about some sort of issue in the press (especially the trade rags).   The successful administrator cultivates quiet; she does not cultivate excellence. The exception is where there is a convergence between personal interest and the efforts of staff. To that end, a sound administrator pushes faculty toward the median--she neither wants faculty that make others look bad, nor can she afford faculty who are too far in the rear.  The administrator who is successful also cultivates a quiet faculty.  The less one's faculty makes noise beyond its unit the more successful the administrator may make herself appear.

5.  Cultivate the art of spite in your inferiors. The successful administrator finds the bullies within the faculty  and seeks to make of them allies.  It is to those faculty that rewards are govern and deference shown.  They, in turn, can be counted on to do the dirty work of administration--but at least they do this with relish. Where spitefulness is tolerated, faculty themselves can serve to create a climate where it is necessary for the middle manager to step in to “save the day.”

6.  Blame Others.  The art of accepting responsibility is not in the middle manager’s job description.  Though everyone must adhere to a certain fidelity to the premise, in reality the middle manager must rely on “the system” to absorb all blame, where blame is otherwise not crammed down to faculty.  For the middle manager, it is always something: the “system”, superior administrators, policy, budget or the like.  Recently blaming governmental authorities has become fashionable—and with good reason.  Governmental regulations provide a large black hole into which much of the blame for the product of the exercise of administrative discretion may disappear.

7.  Lead from the rear.  Shared governance can serve the administrator as a sword as well as a shield.  In both senses the administrator can use the faculty as a means of avoiding risk taking through leadership.  One of the best ways of doing that is to provide faculty with a carte blanche to think through “what they want” without either revealing the vision of the middle manager, or in the absence of a such a vision.  In the best case, a well-functioning faculty will provide the leadership and collaborate partnership that produces success.  In many cases, however,  

8.  Cultivate a faulty memory.  Middle managers have to promise things all the time.  Usually the promise relates to an obligation undertaken to be fulfilled in the future for work or activity that is to be performed now.  In those cases it is always useful to forget the exact terms of agreement, or to recast them to suit the times when obligation is called due. Where faculty have been presumptuous enough to write something down always be sure to adopt the blanket position that the faculty member’s recollection is itself faulty. In any case the “changed circumstances” and the “this was not meant as a binding obligation” approaches sometimes work to put faculty off, especially those who may be on fixed term contract or those who might otherwise seek other favors later.

9.  Use strategic rewards wisely.  A faculty becomes more docile and more dependent the better a middle manager is able to cultivate the strategic art of gift giving. This is an especially powerful tool when combined with the “faulty memory”  and the “use praise” strategies. Rewarding friends and punishing enemies ensures that by the end of a long tenure the middle manager will only have friends; but only for so long as those friends are dependent on the rewards.  That obligates the middle manager to ensure a larder of rewards equal to the ambitions of her friends.

10.  Always remember who and what you serve.  The middle manager serves the institution and reports to her superiors. Those conditions define the alpha and omega of the world in which she inhabits.  Those parameters suggest the structures of the logic of her function.  The institution is designed to survive first, and to prosper later.  To that end, all inputs—students, faculty, staff, alumni and the like—are factors in the protection of the viability of the institution as a going concern. With that firmly in mind, our middle manager is well equipped to survive in the modern university.

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