Friday, November 8

Herding Cats

Truly managing academic departments is like herding cats. I am involved in several universities in a management and/or teaching capacity and over the past few years, have seriously come to believe that there is definitely a dedicated God in charge of tertiary education. Because only through divine intervention can the results happen like teaching students. The level of confusion, incompetence, ego’s, administrative log jams, misaligned incentives, lack of strategic direction, planning, coordination, budgeting, risk management etc. etc. is simply gobsmacking and the fact that they keep on running and also end up educating our younglings is a miracle which can only be attributed to divine intervention.

So it was with interest that I read this paper. I quote the 2 quotes:

“There is a lot of difference in managing a group of employees in a plant and (managing) faculty
members,… Trying to manage faculty members is like herding cats”
“The reason why disputes in academia are so bitter is because the stakes are so low”

Truly herding cats indeed.

Here’s the abstract:

Using a tried and tested measure of management practices which has been shown to
predict firm performance, we survey nearly 250 departments across 100+ UK
universities. We find large differences in management scores across universities and that
departments in older, research-intensive universities score higher than departments in
newer, more teaching-oriented universities. We also find that management matters in
universities. The scores, particularly with respect to provision of incentives for staff
recruitment, retention and promotion, are correlated with both teaching and research
performance conditional on resources and past performance. Moreover, this relationship
holds for all universities, not just research-intensive ones.

When I see university management, I sometimes wonder. Just because you are a good teacher and/or a researcher does not mean that you are a good administrator. Specially here in the UK. Take a peek over the pond, there they have professional administrators and that’s what we need more of. Universities are complex beasts and they need professional trainers to train and perform. Specially the staff.

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