Often in life two different groups of people (and often more) see the same situation from two different sides. The day to day problems that arise in a higher education institution are no different. Miscommunication and a lack of understanding can cause confusion, friction and eventually lead to conflict over even small issues.
Having just moved to the ‘dark side’ of administration in higher education from a pure research postdoc position, I am starting to see things from both sides. This has helped me gain an empathy for the ‘two sides to the same coin’ who are ultimately trying to achieve the same thing. They all want to enable the best research, teaching and use of resources in a university in order to heighten it’s profile and provide the best experience for all. Seen from the academic side, the profile of the research, the cutting edge teaching and the number and quality of grants and journal articles are the key performance indicators. On the other side of the coin, the university’s administration ensures strict adherence to any guidelines, manages the finances of the institution and tries to eliminate as much of the paper work from the academics’ work load as possible, to allow them to concentrate on what they do best.
From my brief time as an administrator, misunderstandings between the “sides” appear to come from a mutual lack of knowledge on what the ‘other’ is trying to achieve, or how they are going about this. One classic example is that of research grant budgets. Some academics squirrel away the funds where possible, both to spend the remains of older grants, for possible future equipment maintenance or to start preliminary work for the next grant. This can lead to underspend on a project in the initial years and even leave some funds unspent at the end of a grant. This may seem conservative and sensible from one perspective, but to a member of the university finance department this is nearly as bad as overspending. The management of the funds from a finance perspective would have a fairly even distribution of fund spending throughout, with the spending goals hit at each milestone so as to avoid the dreaded ‘variance’. One does not understand why the other is upset when they have more funds than expected, whilst the other does not understand why the spending is not at the rate forecasted. Thinking outside these boxes, both arguments on budget management are right for different reasons!
Perhaps when working in institutions that pride themselves in the education they are able to provide, we should look inward and help to educate each other on what we do and why things are done in a certain way?
Also, could collaborative tools or networking sessions help us create connections across the academic/administrative boundaries?
What are your experiences with dealing with issues from an academic or administrative perspective? You can also share your opinions in the comments below (See “Leave a Reply”), or get in touch with us directly.