The conflict-cooperation model of faculty-admin relations, Part 2: We are social animals


I’ve noticed that faculty members are prone to discuss administrators almost as frequently as discussing their own students.

You might think that this is odd, because most faculty rarely interact with their administrators. However, our ability to do our jobs and our quality of life is controlled more by administrators than by students.

Administrators can give you time and they can take it away. The same goes for space, money, service, and – for the first six years – our jobs.

Faculty members are often in surreptitious or overt conflict with their administration. Many of these conflicts can develop from the fact that some professors are irrationally upset with, and overly judgmental of, administrators. While there are often rational grounds for being mad at your administrators, these conflicts are often amplified because some faculty misunderstand the fundamental nature of the faculty-administration relationship.

I’ve used my familiarity with the social biology of animals to consider the relationship between faculty and administrators. I’m sure a sociologist would hate me for this because of the oversimplification and duplication of existing theory, but if you’re not a sociologist, then please read on.

In every social group, relationships are forged through both conflict and cooperation. Groups of distinct individuals persist because the benefits of the group outweigh the costs of being in the group. Cooperation emerges, in theory, because the greater benefits of cooperation outweigh the cost incurred through cooperation.

Faculty members can’t really do their main jobs (research and teaching) without the cooperation of the university. Administrators can’t really do their jobs (make the university run and fulfill the overt and tacit missions of the institution) without having the faculty carry out the grunt work of that job.

Let’s be clear: Faculty are the necessary grunts of the university. We are the ones that do the essential job of the campus (except for some schools, where the coaches and athletes are central). Without us, the university has no way to exist.

Next week: How our universities are like ant colonies.

3 thoughts on “The conflict-cooperation model of faculty-admin relations, Part 2: We are social animals

  1. Off-topic (though it’s related to your planned post on universities as ant colonies), but if you haven’t done so, you *need* to seek out a DVD of Angels and Insects, and read the corresponding novella by A. S. Byatt:

    I can vouch for both. The movie is very good, and sticks very close to the book, so it’s not as if you’ll only like whichever one you encounter first. And both center on the analogies between Victorian society and an ant colony. Seriously, if the pitch for this movie had been “let’s make a movie that will be right up Terry McGlynn’s alley”, it wouldn’t have been any more up your alley than it is. Unless I’m totally misjudging you and what you really look for in a movie is “Directed by Michael Bay” or “no analogies to ant colonies” or something. :-)

  2. I thought the movie was good, and the book was a great window into the worldview and social interactions of Victorian naturalists and class structure in that era. The notion that science is a luxury that could only have emerged from aristocracy is a notion that’s structured how I approach a variety of things. Definitely a recommended read.

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