In a recent blog Acephalous of the University of California, Irvine wrote of his discovery of a couple having sex in his office. They abused him and threatened him with an harassment charge when he asked them to leave as he had a student coming to see him. Since then he has been in a Kafkaesque world with the university administration. Who is the culprit and who is the victim? We won't know since the university has made it a non-discloure matter.
Kafka is stalking the halls of the University of Westminster also. I wrote back in August that the university was evaluating professors in order to create a new pay system. Hay Management Consultants who are carrying out the exercise told me that they would be done by the end of August. I strongly suspect that would have been so if the university had been able to pull its act together. But here we are in mid-December and the university hasn't yet delivered all the necessary papers to Hay. And we don't know when the process will be completed...if at all...
My colleagues and I always had our suspicions that the administration of the university wouldn't handle this process to the best of its abilities. Interestingly, a survey on attitudes towards the university administration carried out in 2003 found that senior faculty were the most mistrustful. And that the personnel/"human resources" department, which is handling the job evaluation process, was found wanting. (Quite what a human resource is I'm unable to fathom. Even the Society for Human Resource Management didn't elucidate.) During early summer we met with the head of personnel and the vice-chancellor to express our concerns, namely what did it all mean, and above all ask for transparency in the process. It was assured. Five months on we await the results of the exercise.
When during September it was clear that the pace was neck and neck with the annual snail and slug race, we asked for regular updates from the personnel department. Oh well, one tries. If you have seen the movie, the Shawshank Redemption, you will appreciate this next bit. The hero becomes prison libarian and asks the state legislature for money to finance book purchases. Nothing happens so he writes each week to them asking for money. The state relents eventually and provides books. His buddy asks him if he'll now stop writing. No, he says, he will now write twice a week asking for more. Our request for regular updates was met with a similar blankness and I began to write to the personnel head each week asking for information. It always takes two emails to get him to respond, which is indicative of translucency rather than transparency. It seems there are a few job evaluations outstanding and rather than tell us the results of ours we have to wait.
This last is interesting because we discussed the fact that professors are different from each other and therefore it's not so much the group aspect as how each professor fares. On this basis there's no reason why individuals couldn't be given their results. But no, we wait for the stragglers.
What confidence there has been in the process has ebbed away. I continue to email personnel and forward their responses to my colleagues. How is it that an organization based on knowledge work could be so backward in its dealings with its most valuable "resources"? We, who are meant to be at the cutting edge of knowledge, teeter on the edge of an administrative mire. The numbers of emails I receive from my colleagues suggest that adversarialism is the dominant motif in relations between "senior management" and them. Of course there will always be a tension between administrative necessity and intellectual desire, and that can be creative. But when administrative suffocation becomes the norm with bloated bureaucracies, attempts to impose uniform "working practices" and so forth, it saps the creativity that makes universities the great institutions they can sometimes be.
In order for universities to be their best, they need a careful blend of collegiality and administration. This cannot be imposed by administrative fiat. It comes about by a creative melding of ideas from academics and administrators. My guess is that administrators now believe they are the university, whereas we know otherwise. Administration is there to service academics and students, not to demand fealty from us. That is perverse.
My experience of both American and English universities--as student and faculty--tells me that a good administration thinks about the university within society, its role and its creativity which will bring the other benefits of status and money. A small number of English universities have got the message; a greater number of American ones have known it for a long time. Is it any surprise that America now attracts the best students from the world. The English share of the market is declining in parts and may grow ever smaller. Even English undergraduates are beginning to consider American colleges for their first degrees, not just graduate work.
Using Fordist principles to run universities won't work. (And was it good for car manufacturers? Probably not.) Fortunately, my law school understands this but we stand apart from the university as a whole--we have a growing cohort of graduate students, our undergraduates are improving in quality, our faculty produce quality research and attract research grants. If the university is unable to adapt to the norms of collegiality, the results will be predictable.
The result? People leave. Already I have lost three colleagues from the law school to other universities: two to Aberdeen and one to Warwick. Other departments are suffering. It's the run up to the RAE and we should be keeping faculty not losing them. I'm not sounding optimistic, but we did so well in the last RAE, I'd hate it to be a one-shot wonder. I hope the university can see that.