In organizations, people work in teams, but teams work effectively is difficult: this is what management is for. It doesn’t always work well, but efficient management – making teams work together smarter, faster, and better – is the key to organizational success, whether you are in the private, public, or non-profit sectors.
Universities, of course, are an exception.
OK, not entirely. Every university has units that must act as a team in order to deliver results. Bookstores, admissions offices, physical plant: if teamwork goes down, if work is badly managed, the unit will not produce the desired results, and this can have deleterious effects on other units (difficult to do lab work or teach classes if the heat isn’t working properly; tough to pay staff if admissions are falling, etc.).
But in academic units? Ha! No.
It’s not that academics are resistant to team work. The lone wolf is rare in academe. If an academic is running a lab, s/he is running a team. Any major long-term project – whether funded through a granting council or self-initiated/funded – involves co-operation with one or more scholars and co-authors, and requires co-ordination of work among scholars who may be all over the world. Teams are everywhere.
But for most profs, the term “team” simply doesn’t apply to the folks down the hall who just happen to have adjacent offices. That’s not to say they dislike those folks; they may go for coffee together, they may team-teach the odd class, and they recognize “they are all in this together” in the sense that they are all getting paycheques from the same source. But fundamentally, departments and faculties are not seen as a key unit of collaboration.
To people not embedded in the academy, this sounds bananas. For instance, academic staff in colleges, where departments are seen as teams jointly delivering an integrated academic program, tend to find this behaviour nonsensical. But in universities, non-professional undergraduate programs (i.e. those not subject to accreditation) and degrees are only dimly seen as a product that requires “management”. Indeed, the entire academic architecture of North American universities has been set up to avoid thinking of degrees as a specific set of inputs requiring efficient management.
We set up degrees as smorgasbords from which students choose, rather than (as in most of the rest of the world) a fairly structured set of modules requiring integration. Get so many credits from bucket A, and some from bucket B, and a few from bucket C, and Presto! A degree. No integration required. And then we inculcate professors in a peculiar academic ideology in which the principal meaning of academic freedom is what some call “classroom sovereignty” – i.e. what happens in class is my business and no one else’s. The idea that a particular class covering a particular subject might belong to the department as a whole, rather than the academic unit responsible for ensuring quality control, is a violation of academic freedom – at least according to the Canadian Association of University Teachers, our august national faculty body.
(Note: I am very definitely not endorsing this point of view. Just explaining it.)
So, having set up degree programs so that teamwork is unnecessary, except for somewhat pro-forma curriculum reviews, profs are unsurprisingly a bit bewildered to find there are a lot of managers floating around, particularly at the faculty level. What are they all doing, exactly, one reasonably wonders?
And the answer, briefly, is that a lot of people who get called “managers”, and may even have the title of manager, are in fact not managing anybody, but rather are simply doing tasks that are deemed to require professional competence. Sometimes these people are academics on secondment (in which case, they get a small bump in pay and an “Associate Dean” title of some sort), or they are non-academics with a particular skill: someone to do communications, marketing, alumni relations, development, event co-ordination, etc. A lot of them get “director” or “manager” titles not because of managerial responsibility, but rather because of simple title inflation.
So yes, there is a lot of management in universities. But it doesn’t involve managing academics, who on the whole prefer to be left unmanaged. And as long as one could assume with some confidence that everyone was pulling their weight, and being rewarded according to their contributions, it would be fine. I leave it to the reader to decide if that’s actually the case.