Conflicting interests of faculty and administrators


Motives of faculty and administrators can be highly variable. But even though many administrators were once faculty themselves, I can only imagine that things inevitably change when you put on that suit.

What are the ranges of possible interests of faculty members and administrators?

Administrators aren’t monolithic. Here are some various priorities that you might identify in an administrator, all of which might be mutually compatible. Of course I’m leaving plenty out, and of course many of these might not apply to any given administrator.

  • An administrator wanting to climb the ladder will need to keep a balanced budget, carry out the vision of higher-ups, and be well-liked.
  • An administrator who wants to make the university successful will also want to balance the budget, work to promote the visibility of the institution, and try to get the most work out of everyone as possible.
  • An administrator working to promote student success will support faculty efforts to teach and support students, will allocate resources to individuals who best enhance the education of students and is not overly focused on carrying out the nonsensical orders of higher-up administrators.
  • An administrator who just wants to collect the salary of the position until retirement will want to do as little as possible and delegate tasks without much thought. This administrator won’t allocate resources in a way that will require additional management or accountability.
  • An administrator who want to directly support the faculty interests experiences conflicts with higher levels of administration that have distinct expectations of administration.

What do faculty want? This group is more heterogenous than the administrators. Only a small, non-random, subset of faculty move into administration, after all.

  • Some faculty will do anything to teach effectively and want resources allocated towards classroom resources, student experiences, professional development of faculty and staffing to support student needs.
  • Some faculty are focused heavily on research, and want resources allocated towards the equipment and time required for research to get done, as well as support for campus-wide emphasis on research, including support for students conducting research
  • Some faculty are focused on things away from the university (a.k.a. retired on the job), and want resources allocated to minimize their efforts towards the job, so that they can ride horses and play with their dogs. They’ll want more staff, lower and easier teaching loads and no service commitments. They might want teaching technology that lets them be on campus less frequently.
  • Some faculty want to be accorded with respect and perceived to have prestige. These faculty members will want resources allocated to their pet interests and in ways that they may be able to exert direct control over these resources, often in a way that maximizes their visibility.
  • Some faculty want to have a faculty job at a different university because they are not fulfilled do not feel that they are being treated fairly. They are looking for resources that are allocated in a way that will help them to reinforce their CV to make them the most competitive on the job market.
  • Some faculty want to become administrators. They’ll spent lots of time doing service on campus and aren’t picky about how resources are allocated, so long as they’ll have the ability to do the allocating in the future. These faculty don’t have much overt conflict with administrators, though the administrators might be annoyed that they these faculty are pretending to run things instead of focusing on their actual job, to teach and do research.

Note that when faculty goals come in direct conflict with the goals of administrators, or of other faculty members, that’s when junior faculty members demonstrate the mythically poor “fit” that sinks tenure bids.

It’s no wonder that faculty and administrators can get into intense, and frequently petty, disagreements. Both the faculty and administration are diverse groups that can’t even agree on their own interests and priorities. As a result, productive cooperation with administrators is unlikely to emerge because there is a complex mélange of conflicts that define the structure of the relationship. The only thing that everyone has (or, you would hope, should have) in common is the interest in bettering the lives of our students.

I am consistently surprised at how many faculty members don’t perceive that their interests fail to match those of other faculty and administrators. As a result, some individuals consistently rail about one pet priority of theirs, which results in deaf ears all around. Some people are widely known for their pet issues. Pet-issue people aren’t ever in a position to convince others to make change happen.

Here is an attempt at a grand summary about conflict-cooperation between faculty and administration:

Admins and faculty have different priorities. Even within faculty, there are often be conflicts that prevent cooperation. Everybody is better off if the non-essential conflicts are overlooked, and the benefits of shared cooperation are emphasized. Conflict results in a waste of resources and results in lower productivity for all individuals.

I’m not advising faculty to roll over when administrators tell them what to do, but it might be wise to simply ignore the things that administrators tell you to do that are not mutually beneficial. Instead, we should focus on things that deliver for both the administration and faculty. There are only so many hours in the day, and if any of that time is spent arguing about something that isn’t in one’s mutual interest, it better be important enough to outweigh the lost benefits that could emerge from cooperation.

By the way, this happens to be the last installment of a 5-part series on conflict and cooperation between faculty and administration. Here are parts one, two, three and four.