Somewhere in the academic blogosphere, this blog is brought into existence by a single click of a computer mouse by a button that says PUBLISH. Valentine Academia is the blog I've always wanted to write. It's an online space where I can post reviews of books and articles, share my academic projects, and discuss contemporary educational administration issues that affect universities today. While there are many excellent academic blogs, there appear to be very few dedicated to discussing post-secondary educational administration issues, which is strange when you consider the importance of a university's administration. Though they may be considered the dark underbelly of many institutions, I would suggest that administrators are more like dark matter - unseen, trying to hold everything together, and a mystery to most people. Many administrators "joke" about having joined the dark side by becoming part of a university's administration, though it's fair to say that this reflects a certain perception that is held fervently by many university stakeholders (administrators included!). But here's the truth, as I see it.
My interest in educational administration began when I first stepped foot into the university. As an undergraduate student, I studied various subjects, all of them interesting, but none quite so interesting as trying to discover how the university worked. I would stare at the course syllabus and wonder, not about the readings or essays I was being asked to write, but about the various policies I was being asked to follow. I was distracted by quiet processes and enamoured with procedures. I imagined the university as its own world, where smaller parts moved in synchronized patterns, creating predictable rituals that have come to shape a distinct culture. These patterns and rituals became even more real to me when I was hired to work in the Dean's Office at a local university. I took minutes at committee meetings where faculty and administrators sat around a table negotiating curriculum, I crafted programs of study for degrees that aren't even being offered yet, and I learned about university policy and the politics of the institution. Perhaps most importantly, I became acutely aware that I had entered a profession that was largely disliked by the university community.
I think that much of the skepticism toward administration can be attributed to the invisibility of administrative roles. But one of the most difficult things to accept was that I too, became invisible. I was separated from those that had, only a few years before, been my professors, mentors, and friends because of some tired old narrative that portrays administrators as enemies.
There are mythologies that also portray administrators as failed academics, primarily concerned with promoting their own self-interests. Such views allow administration to become a scapegoat for larger problems within the institution. Despite mutual interests in education, there is a serious lack of trust and respect between faculty and administration, two groups of people that play very different roles.
Granted, not all administrators are good. There are those who allow their positions of authority and their generous compensation packages distract them from important educational issues that perhaps, tragically, once inspired them to their leadership roles in the first place. Such people become the faces of the university in the media. But it's important to note that there are more than 1,000 administrators that run an institution as large as the university I work for. Those in charge do not always make decisions that I, or my colleagues, agree with. They do not speak for all of us.
I think a major problem with administration is that we are indecisive toward how to best approach educational issues. As far back as the popularization of the theory movements of the 1960s, educational leaders have been divided on whether scientific methods or more humanistic approaches better address these issues. Those that research educational administration and leadership have a thousand theories and ideas about how an institution should be run, but are generally short on demonstrated action. University administration, which is supposed to manifest the virtues of truth and knowledge, should be among the noblest professions in the world. But it's not.
University administrators could do better and I believe there are some practical ways forward. One problem is that there is no universal ethic for administration, and since not all administrators are also academics, this field would benefit from an articulated mission statement that reflects ethical leadership practices that those of us who learn about educational policy are taught. An articulated purpose would hold administrators accountable for seeking truth and knowledge in all that they do and to serve the university community as stewards of our educational system.
There should also be more opportunities for administrative scholarship. The post-secondary self-study guidelines in Alberta are silent on any requirement for administrators to regularly report their scholarly activity. While many higher-level administrators have academic degrees, many do not specialize in education, and some have only received management training. Administrators are not allocated funding to travel to and attend academic conferences, they are not encouraged to publish in academic journals, and they are not permitted to participate in annual research showcases. Is it so crazy to expect administrators to also be scholars, when they work within a university?
University administration should be one of the noblest professions in the world, and it's not.
But it can be.