Liberal Education

Compacts and Collaboration Across the Faculty/Administrator Divide

Collaboration has become a buzzword in higher education in the last decade. In the classroom, in scholarly projects, in institutional governance, flattening hierarchies and working cooperatively have come to be seen as both valuable and necessary. In the course of my career, I have been involved in a number of collaborative projects-from team teaching to co-authored research to university-wide strategic planning efforts. Most recently, I have had the privilege to work on the Associated New American Colleges (ANAC) Faculty Work Project.

Done in two phases, the ANAC project was able to wed a comprehensive assessment of faculty work practices and perceptions to an intensive, yearlong study group for ANAC faculty and administrators. This latter phase had the task of articulating new professional principles and practices to align institutional mission with both what faculty actually do and how they are recognized and rewarded. The result, A New Academic Compact: Revisioning the Relationship Between Faculty and Their Institutions, outlines some practical ways faculty and their institutions can become better collaborators in creating learning environments for our students.

Working on the ANAC Project taught me much about collaboration, not only in what the project actually produced, but also in how the project functioned as a process-that is, as a model for how to accomplish collaborative work. The think tank phase in particular was able to bring people together to work productively across what is often seen as an impassable divide-that between faculty and administrators. By the project's end, participants no longer remembered or even cared who wore which title. As the project's manager, I came away both pleased but also a bit surprised at this outcome. Productive and congenial collaboration between faculty and administrators is not always the norm, despite our best intentions. Here I want to explore the processes that made that surprise possible.

Collaborator Outlaws
Faculty and administrators in most universities come together daily to accomplish a variety of tasks. However, we do not often perceive ourselves to be "collaborators." Frequently, we encounter each other as adversaries-bound to represent our distinctive groups and monitor the behavior of the "other side." Thus we focus on negotiating compromise rather than on collaborating to create the most effective solutions.

As I work with administrator colleagues, I have frequently been placed in contexts where I am asked to represent the voice of "the faculty." In these circumstances, I often vacillate between, on the one hand, simply speaking my own mind and offering my own opinions, and, on the other, trying to anticipate the "collective will" of that constituency I represent. Of course, the "collective will" of that incredibly unpredictable and diverse group, "the faculty," is notoriously hard to determine. I also know that I often have been chosen to be a part of projects precisely because I am perceived to be different from my faculty peers by the administrators who most often do the choosing. I am cast as a "good" faculty member-somehow more reasonable, more broad minded, more able to understand budget printouts and the "big picture," more flexible than my colleagues. And, therefore, more likely to appreciate administrative perspectives. Indeed, the very fact that I have so often chosen to work with administrators has in some ways eroded my standing as "pure" with some of my faculty peers. Some colleagues would question my faculty credentials. After all, I have taken on such quasi-administrative roles as department chair and honors director. So, I have at least flirted dangerously with the "dark side," if not wholly gone over.

The difficulty of operating in this borderland between faculty and administrator is not just a problem for faculty. My own position is mirrored across what is at times a hostile boundary. Think of those deans and provosts who teach an occasional class, have a research project simmering on a back burner somewhere, and are welcome to show up at the faculty TGIF. They, too, may be perceived as the "good" dean by faculty and have their administrative credentials questioned by colleagues. One dean I know was told by her president that she "needed to decide whose side" she was on. Her response, "I thought we were on the same side," was not immediately appreciated.

Being a collaborator then, is not a position that fits well within the ways we have dichotomized the roles of faculty and administrators-a clear "us" and "them"-based on real or perceived differences of role, expertise, perspective, and power. This dichotomy goes to the heart of an individual's professional identity: it is assumed that one must be either a faculty member or an administrator. And yet, these roles both overlap and are mutually dependent. I would argue that the best chances for moving away from being negotiating adversaries and toward true collaboration occur when both faculty and administrators are willing to enter the spaces between these two dichotomous categories and to imagine more complex and less dualistic possibilities.

The Administrator/Faculty Divide
Much stands in the way of becoming a collaborator- differences exist between faculty members and administrators that cannot be dismissed out of hand. Many have written about the divide between collegial vs. managerial cultures, disciplinary vs. institutional perspectives, micro vs. macro foci. Less talked about is the issue of power. Holding a meeting at a round table does not automatically erase differences in power among members of the same institution. Administrators often have significantly more influence over resource allocation than individual faculty. And the process of repeatedly arguing through several layers of hierarchy-department chair, dean, provost-for what seems to be basic support can be disheartening and demeaning for faculty "in the trenches" who are most in touch with what is needed to do their jobs.

This is not to say, however, that faculty are without any power. Tenured faculty in particular are able to simply refuse to cooperate in administrative initiatives in ways that at times seem quite capricious. We simply take our marbles and go home, leaving the administrator/standard bearer standing alone or in the uncomfortable position of looking back and finding that nobody is following. Both faculty and administrators, then, have the power to block the action of the other and make collaborative work difficult. Faculty are also not often compensated for being good citizens. Their work is focused on individual scholarship and teaching-those tasks considered most intrinsically valuable and most important in considerations of tenure, promotion, and remuneration. Service work is not only undervalued, too much can be a black mark on one's record, an obstacle to professional success and recognition. One might even argue that, historically, the job of the administrator was created to keep the less intrinsically valued task of running the institution at bay. The irony of course is that to choose to do such "service work" full-time leapfrogs one salary over that of many faculty. This differential in compensation between faculty and administrators-in particular when administrators do work that is perceived to be intrinsically less valuable-is rarely confronted directly and can be a source of discomfort and resentments. Some explanations for this differential -loss of flexibility and autonomy, increased responsibility-are accepted by many faculty. (Indeed, I figure anyone who would have to wear a tie or nylons in the middle of summer deserves higher compensation!)

But there continue to be accusations made by some that administrators have "sold out," chosen money and power over the pursuit of truth-leaving administrators themselves to second-guess and justify their own motivations and choices. Because our academic culture undervalues the important and essential work of service and institutional management, these harsh stereotypes make the boundary between faculty and administrators harder to cross, the borderland harder to inhabit.

An Example of What Collaboration Can Accomplish
Nevertheless, people do become collaborators. The best example of this that I have been a part of has been the Associated New American Colleges Faculty Work Project. This project was designed to bring together faculty and administrator pairs from each ANAC campus to think through the evolving nature of faculty work and institutional relationships. Such a task is ripe for conflict. On the table was the "my work" of faculty.

And yet, somehow, we were able to come together productively. We did some obvious things to facilitate this: dropped titles from nametags, created heterogeneous working groups, outlawed faculty/administrator "bashing," and let leaders emerge without regard to position. But perhaps the biggest factor in this blurring of faculty/administrator identity was that we came from a group of institutions where the boundaries between faculty and administrators are not strictly policed. In most of our institutions administrators still teach on occasion and faculty take on a variety of semi-administrative roles. Most of us are small enough so that everyone is expected to keep a variety of balls in the air regardless of formal position. This fluidity was seen when, in the course of the project, some individuals moved from administrative roles to full-time faculty and vice-versa. As a group, then, we were predisposed to cross boundaries and become collaborators.

The outcome of this project was a call for a "New Academic Compact" between faculty and their institutions-"a formalized set of reciprocal understandings embracing the faculty career at the institution" (McMillin and Berberet 2002, 22). Holding the mission of the institution at its center, this compact is meant to acknowledge the ways in which both faculty member and institution are interdependent in creating a learning environment for students. The compact recognizes that across a career path changing roles and duties are constantly negotiated and renegotiated with both the good of the institution and the individual in mind. Workload, development opportunities, institutional service, leadership, evaluation, recognition, rewards are marked by flexibility and differentiation. In other words, we want to create institutions where collaborators can thrive!

Two key elements of this compact are the reciprocal obligations of institutional citizenship and faculty development. Institutional citizenship is a way of reconceptualizing traditional notions of service work "that are frequently poorly defined, inequitably distributed, and haphazardly evaluated and rewarded" (23). Institutional citizenship claims a place at the table of faculty work alongside teaching and scholarship. It places faculty in a more collaborative and strategic relationship with institutional functioning where their academic expertise and professional judgment can play a central role in addressing strategic institutional priorities. At the same time, faculty development policies must recognize the importance of investing and re-investing in the institution's most important resource-its faculty. Such policies would enable "a faculty member to become over a career, in the words of Eugene Rice, a complete scholar--a mature professional who not only adds significant value in teaching, research, and service, but has integrated these roles in ways that yield superior student learning, distinguished scholarship, and consequential institutional leadership" (25).

Another way of thinking about these reciprocal obligations is in terms of a "circle of value." Individual faculty working in a specific unit (department, center, school) within the institution add value to that unit. The unit in turn contributes to the mission of the institution as a whole. The institution then invests in both individual faculty and units in ways that support the work of both. Key to such a system is the placement of the institutional mission at the center of determining what is "value adding." Flexibility is essential and an acknowledgement that different individuals and units will add value in different ways. "Workload differentiation and parallel individual faculty and unit work plans, evaluations, and reward …[can create] a mechanism for optimizing on the one hand, faculty and unit productivity and satisfaction, and on the other, accountability and reciprocity" (25). Such an environment would not only make collaboration possible, it would recognize and reward it as well.

Roads to Collaboration: Shared Professional Values
As an example of faculty/administrator collaboration the ANAC project is a bit disingenuous. Clearly, such collaboration is easier across institutions because it happens outside the local hierarchies that lock individuals into specific positions of power and authority in specific historical and political contexts. Nevertheless, I think that the ANAC experience can still offer some directions for fostering collaboration on individual campuses. First of all, by meeting each other outside a local institution, the faculty and administrators involved in this project were able to look across the dichotomy that normally separates us to recognize and respect each other as professionals. Even more surprising, we recognized that we both-faculty and administrators-are in the same profession.

To be in the same profession means that faculty and administrators share some fundamental values. In The Academic Ethic, Edward Shils (1997, 3) says, "The task of the University…is the methodical discovery and the teaching of truths about serious and important things." Now, I am enough of a postmodern scholar in the humanities to want to instantly problematize Shils's notion of "truths." However, I would argue that faculty and administrators share a dedication to the pursuit of knowledge and to sharing that knowledge with others. Serious and important things, indeed! Along these lines, I have often heard it said that all members of the university-from groundskeeper to president-are educators. We all teach students. I would add that we all administer as well. We are all responsible for attending to the larger structures that facilitate our work together and build a learning community with our students.

Recognizing our commitments to shared professional values-discovery, teaching, learning-does not mean an end to conflict. Faculty and administrators will still come to these values from different positions and with different responsibilities. My dean and I will still argue about whether or not we should cancel that tiny upper division class in order to open a large introductory section. But instead of her accusing me of being lazy and I thinking her cheap, we can talk about the legitimate learning needs of upper division majors and first year general education students, the real limits of the university's resources, and the various options we can create together to safeguard both disciplinary integrity and institutional viability. Shared values do not make hard decisions go away, but they do allow faculty and administrators to become collaborators in finding solutions.

Roads to Collaboration: Attention to Process
A second key to successful collaboration is paying strict attention to process. Too often we bring people together and simple say, "Okay, collaborate!" without giving any thought to how to facilitate this process. The result can be a long, random, and chaotic conversation that never seems to reach a conclusion. Initial enthusiasm soon gives way to exhaustion and frustration as, in meeting after meeting, the discussion meanders through the same issues endlessly. One is left to conclude that collaboration and being productive are mutually exclusive activities! This does not have to be the case. As manager of the ANAC study, I was always aware of how little time we had and how much we hoped to accomplish. Consequently, we thought carefully about both how to structure our time together and what needed to be done individually and/or electronically between meetings. We made sure that people had needed resources and information in a timely fashion. We were ruthless about deadlines. Task-oriented leadership-having clear directions, boundaries, deadlines, and expectations about a final outcome-does much to clarify the process of collaboration.

Even more important, however, was that the ANAC project took pains to recognize and nurture the facilitators among us. Too often, however, the chair of an academic meeting is determined by status rather than skill. Both faculty and administrators need to take stock of their abilities to facilitate, enhance those skills as necessary, and when appropriate, cede facilitation to others of greater skill. The best example of this I have seen comes from my own campus in a recent strategic planning meeting chaired by our president, Jay Lemons. Time was getting short, we still had much to accomplish and were at a bit of an impasse. Suddenly, the president tossed the marker that he had been using to write on the flip chart to the business dean-recognized by all as a skilled facilitator-and said, "I am going to exercise leadership, you take over!"

Roads to Collaboration: Overcoming Hierarchy
Another lesson from the ANAC project is the need to create flexibility in how we define our professional roles. The project focused on faculty roles and argued for increased differentiation-both among faculty and over the life span of an individual career. I would argue that such flexibility should not be confined to faculty. Administrator roles should be more differentiated as well. In Building Communities of Difference, Bill Tierney (1993) suggests that "administrative and faculty roles be less clearly defined so that all individuals seize decision-making responsibility rather than let it reside primarily in one arena." In this case, "organizations have a twofold task: (1) of creating arenas where individuals who have distinct interests may congregate, debate, recommend, and decide, and (2) of developing a sense of community where decisions are based on the debate of the whole" (102). In their article, "The Implications of the Changed Environment for Governance in Higher Education," Roger Benjamin and Steve Carroll (1998) agree, "Universities will…have to move toward a flatter, better networked, decentralized governance structure…. Layers of [hierarchy]…will probably be eliminated…Networks of faculty and administrators will replace them" (144).

When I hear calls such as these to move out of existing hierarchies and to create new, more collaborative institutions, my collaborator's heart is cheered. And yet, the reality I see around me is of institutions that seem more strongly than ever locked into proliferating hierarchies-complex structures that reinforce dichotomies between faculty and administrators.

How are we going to get to a new vision? I would argue that collaborators are not born, nor are they made. Collaborators collaborate because they have been invited. My own history of collaboration can be laid at the feet of two key administrators who invited me early and often to work with them, clearing out institutional obstacles and finding sufficient resources to facilitate my participation. One person in particular is notorious for getting folks to carve out an early morning hour to work together-and he always buys you breakfast!

I would argue as well, that given existing hierarchies, full-time administrators are in a better position than most faculty to bring collaborators together. Their institutional positionality gives them a greater ability to connect individuals in the trenches to each other and to the larger picture. There is risk, however, because such work may very well dismantle the hierarchical structures in which such administrators have already been successful. What if you collaborate yourself out of a job? What if collaborating below and/or laterally gets you in trouble with the hierarchy above you? And don't forget that collaboration is more time consuming than simply giving orders. So, as you are busy collaborating, what happens to all the rest of the work you have to do?

I talked earlier of the differences in power between faculty and administrators-we both have the power to block collaboration. But administrators have greater power to initiate collaboration-to invite potential collaborators to the table. If nothing else, you can buy us breakfast!


Linda McMillin is associate professor of history at Susquehanna University

 


Works Cited

Benjamin, Roger and Steve Carroll. 1998. The implications of the changed environment for governance in higher education. In William G. Tierney, ed. The responsive university: Restructuring for high performance. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 92-119.

McMillin, Linda and William G. (Jerry) Berberet, eds. 2002. A new academic compact: Revisioning the relationship between faculty and their institutions. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.

Rice, Eugene. 1996. Making a place for the new American scholar. New Pathways Working Paper Series. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Shils, Edward. 1997. The academic ethic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tierney, William G. 1993. Building communities of difference: Higher education in the twenty-first century. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.

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