Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The administration gene

One of the reasons I like administration is that consistency and integrity matter to me.  There is nothing more infuriating than an arbitrary decision; nothing more rage-inducing than ad hoc leadership.  We should know why we are going this way rather than that, on something more than purely practical or least-resistance grounds.  There should be a principle that guides and unifies various decisions.

Identifying and following that principle isn't easy, to be sure, but neither is treating each choice as a wholly separate, unique, unrepeatable event for which no precedent or context comes into consideration.

I'll bet I'm not alone.  When I get together with other academics, or with the denizens of any reasonably-sized institution, the majority of complaints center on senselessness.  When decisions don't cohere with each other, when leaders whack moles, when squeaky wheels get grease and everyone else goes begging, morale plummets.  People deserve better, and they know it.  A little explanation and a lot of follow-through goes a long way.  When communication channels shut down, every action -- even the most defensible -- looks unprincipled, because it comes with no strings connecting it to other actions, making a pattern that illustrates a principle.

And there's one more key.  Missions, values, principles, strategies are wonderful, essential things to have.  They tell you what's the most important things for you to do and the essential components to doing them.  But without structures that can persist beyond the commitment of individuals, no matter how central or dedicated, they are empty.  We can't just farm this off as Person A's job; everybody in the organization needs to be able to follow the logic and understand -- if not make -- the decision.  Without a transpersonal structure, that's coincidental at best and a sham at worst.  Structures make some people nervous; they take resources to maintain, they add layers of oversight complexity and can form hierarchies, they can become ossified and recalcitrant and creaky.  But none of those potential flaws is a reason to dispense with them.  Indeed, without a structure that identifies such elements in the effort that are in conflict with principles -- without a structure of assessment and reflection -- any labeling of structures as problematic is just an aesthetic judgment or opinion, asserted without any common language of process and perception underlying it.

1 comment:

Doc Thelma said...

As someone whose administration has clearly been making things up as they go along for 3 years and cannot stick with any vision for more than 6 months, I will happily recommend you if you ever want to apply for a job as Dean