The conflict-cooperation model of faculty-admin relations: Part 1: Know Your Bosses


Being a professor is a relatively unique job. We have near-total authority over how we do our jobs, but there are a lot of interests working to shape what we do and how we do it. How we interact with the administration at our university can affect whether we can be successful in what we want to do.

Here’s a way to think about how we approach our jobs, as researchers and teachers within universities.

If you have a salary, you have a boss.

We should consider what structures our relationships with our bosses. Because professors enjoy academic freedom, and those with tenure are free to speak their minds on nearly everything, this relationship is different than most boss-employee relationships.

To do our jobs well, we need to understand the nature of our relationship with our bosses. We need to know how this relationship affects how we interact with our students, and the research community outside our campus.

When the faculty vision of the boss-professor relationship is incongruent with the vision of administrators, things can fall apart.

Here I consider the differing roles of professors and their bosses in the university, and how these distinct roles can work together to maximize the benefit for all parties: administrators, faculty, students, and the scholarly community. By understanding how the faculty-admin relationship is structured, we can all relate to one another in a fashion that fits not only our own interests, but also allow us to provide more and better opportunities for students.

Administrators can empower, or minimize, your ability to get stuff done. By understanding the areas of cooperation and the areas of conflict with administration, we can work to maximize the benefits for all parties. Administrators won’t make decisions in the interests of faculty unless it meets their own interests as well. So, you need to understand not only your own interests, but also the interests of your bosses.

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