要求学术人才具备管理才能这一做法最终可能会导致大学变得平庸

安德鲁·奥斯瓦声称,大学晋升机制要求顶尖研究者同时成为优秀教师和优秀管理者的做法有损大学的本质

June 20, 2019
Source: Liam Anslow

“大学并能浑浑噩噩发展下去,而是要处理好与恼人的学术人才之间的关系。”我建议读到这篇文章的校长将这两句话用80号字体打印出来,悬挂在餐桌上面,无论配偶是否会提出抗议。

大学因思想观点的多元化而得以兴盛。然而,这类风气正遭到攻击。在英国,新出台的“在选项框中打勾”的晋升规则就是一个可怕的新案例,并最终将导致大学步入平庸境地。

我不得不深表遗憾地说,大多数决策层面的错误是由好心人推波助澜导致的。他们一直深受非大学部门的影响,有些人本身就来自那些部门。自然,他们就会仰慕那些具有预见性、可靠的组织。“假设有4个盒子,我们分别叫做‘科研’、‘教学’、‘管理经验’和‘公共参与及影响力’”。现在,这四项具有同样的权重。接着通过一项规定,称所有人若希望晋升到中高层岗位(如高级讲师或教授),必须在所有四项中至少达到及格线。最后,别去征求现在的高级讲师和教授的意见,问他们制定这样的规则是否是个好主意。只要照办就是了。后来,就由从非大学部门招聘而来的人力资源主管之类的人去实施了。

沮丧、迷惑于愤怒的线索

如果你不认为这样的体系可能会对大学造成灾难性后果,那么你就没能理解大学的本质(如果你是来自政府文职机构或者保险公司,就更没必要了解这些了)。无法用盒子装起来的高大的罂粟花将被拔掉,存放在美国和欧洲大陆,常规性、可靠性、稳定性和畅通性得以建立。这些品质可能是宝贵的:如果我要赶火车、给汽车协会打电话或者在网上订购短袜,我需要的是这些品质。但是对于大学而言,这些品质就会令人绝望了。

我在这里分享些奇闻轶事告诫人们。多年前,我在一所著名大学任教,学院的100名学生首次对所有教职人员的教学质量进行打分。当排名结果揭晓后,我们都去查看。当然,X博士几乎排名垫底。我想他心里肯定很沮丧。几年之后,他获得了一个奖项。为了去领奖,他不得不飞往斯德哥尔摩,戴上白色领结。很快,他就辞职去到另外一所大学了。

根据我的经验,杰出的研究者未必能当好老师。但很不幸的是,我们不得不接受这样一个现实:有时候,一些杰出的人并不具备广泛的技能。谷歌和微软已经学到了这一点,大学也需要清醒过来了。

还有一次,在我工作的部门,有一名学者在电视机镜头前最能言善辩,对大学和专业都做了极好的宣传。尽管据我所知,他从未发表过一篇重要的文章。另外,我有一个同事,他是我遇到过的最好的办公室经理,却只是一个普普通通的研究员,无法应付电视采访或政府部门委托。

这些都没问题。世界需要不同的人才。文森特·梵高若是成为艺术部门的经理,可能会令人厌倦、觉得不可靠。穆萨·西索科可能是热刺足球队中最好的球员,但是他的得分能力实在太差了,以至于当他在球门前时,忠实的球迷会大喊“传球”。要是欧内斯特·海明威给我女儿当大学私人教师,可能并不让人放心。玛丽·居里可能会忘记去讲课。

大学具有特殊的性质和目的。大学是世界上各种观点的发源地,因此,大学最重要的工作不是教学或管理,或者迅速产生公众影响力——尽管这些都很重要。大学不像汽车制造厂:甚至不是梅赛德斯奔驰工厂。这就是为何不宜在大学建立晋升机制,或者其他绩效管理体系来奖励稳定性和同质性。学者不需要平衡发展,成为全知全能的人。

在我看来,就像从前的那样,科研能力应该占据更大的权重。一名好教师能教学生40年,一名好研究员能够影响后世学者140年,有时候甚至是400年。但是,如果大学的晋升机制迫使他们改变现状,甚至不得不寻找新工作机会,那么这些都将沦为空谈。

Andrew Oswald 安德鲁·奥斯瓦尔德是华威大学经济学和行为科学系教授。

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Reader's comments (12)

As a one-time executive dean of a large faculty at an Australian university I find myself in furious agreement with Professor Oswald. I came to the job from outside the university world and spent three years getting a grip on how it worked. What at first seemed unmanageable slowly began to make sense. What I couldn't understand is why the best academics were put into management roles where their talents were sidelined rather than supported to devote their energies to what they did best and rewarded for it. Although I may have been part of the trend, I'm convinced the corporatisation of universities, like the corporatisation of so much else in modern societies, is a slow burning disaster.
Very insightful. Of course it also suits the mediocre to hold the brilliant back by demanding that they have ticked those frankly irrelevant boxes in the name of 'student experience', 'teaching', and admin roles. Specialisation is needed, and probably smaller, more selective institutions.
This all makes a lot of sense and certainly applies where particular skills and talents lie. It is when people who don’t excel in any one of the 4 domains claim exceptionalism that the management class get irked. But then again what would they know if they’ve spent their formative years in an insurance company or the civil service?
This is rather predicated on the idea that there's a vanishingly small pool of top talent - or indeed that ground-breaking ideas are all down to some innate personal genius, rather than that + a broader combination of factors such as a supportive and collaborative ecosystem of talented colleagues. I'd argue both premises are on shaky ground. Not everyone has to be brilliant at everything, granted, but we all know there are more PhDs coming through the system than there are academic posts. My advice? If you want to get on, accept that the modern idea of an academic has evolved, and work at your weak areas: the time of universities having to pick the brilliant-but-flawed misanthrope researcher over an exceptional *and* rounded academic are largely gone, at least for the truly world-class universities.
Do universities actually thrive on erratic brilliance? I bet there is probably some data on this. It's worth considering if universities actually thrive on occasional "geniuses" or on systematic, highly collaborative work. And can you say with certainty that being forced out of the bubble of research and into the other three areas does NOT improve your research as a whole? We can all agree that fiddling around in clunky administrative systems is a waste of time, but I believe, and have colleagues who believe, that working with people and engaging in things like outreach and science communication actually help the researcher understand her own work and the nature of the problem better. A more scandalous question is this: is one great paper (see: http://sciencepaths.kimalbrecht.com/) enough of a payoff for society as a whole to fund, for an unlimited amount of time, the office, lab space, travel and salary of a researcher? Perhaps it *is* fair to propose that great teachers should fund the great researchers. But we should be honest about 1. how likely it is that even ONE great paper/a genius is produced, and 2. the fact that when it happens, it is often a flash in the pan.
Not all academics are geniuses. Really, we should be careful with the assumption that academics are some kind of special people... We are not. However, I do agree that the current performance-driven tick box exercises are killing the morale of several very good academics. Academia, like any other place, is "team work". To expect each member of staff to perform equally well in 4 different jobs at the same is a delusion. This would be the same as expecting a football player to equally have stellar performance in ALL team roles, including goalkeeper. This is simply NOT possible. One could be exceptionally good in 1 of the 4 'jobs', average in 2 others and even mediocre in the 4th one. But they could still be a very valuable team member. The way academics are required to perform a number of roles (and some of them they have never received any kind of training for) is delusional and eventually results in staff with average/mediocre performance in ALL roles being promoted more easily than others. Then there is also the great academic who is promoted to management roles that kill their motivation and drive. Eventually, those brilliant academics will leave. The worse a management can do is to kill the motivation of your most brilliant staff to cover for the shortcomings of your most mediocre staff. This si a recipe for disaster and it is already happening in some departments.
Very old-fashioned, priviliged view in my opinion. If said genius is so brilliant, they would be able to buy out their time on teaching from research grants, which would justify no/low teaching responsibilities for promotion applications. If said genius is so brilliant, they should be able to win individual research professor grants, which stipulate the university must appoint them as professor, ie bypass home rules on chair appointments. Also, in the current day, which brilliant research is performed my insulated individuals in ivory towers, who need to be shielded from the outside world? In my view all academics must contribute to management tasks, each academic benefits from well-run supporting structures, ie said genius and their research team would benefit from well-run support, as delivered by all. Why would other academics spend boring time on admin and management tasks in support of 'parasitic colleagues', thereby taking themselves away from their own mostly very useful research? Each and every academic must be able to learn and take on management roles, otherwise precious research teams won't be run in the best way, accommodating the most diverse work force, delivering better outputs than less diverse teams.
If said genius is so brilliant, they would be able to buy out their time on teaching from research grants, which would justify no/low teaching responsibilities for promotion applications. If said genius is so brilliant, they should be able to win individual research professor grants, which stipulate the university must appoint them as professor, ie bypass home rules on chair appointments. " I thinks this is a bit of a fantasy. I have 2/3 of my time paid for with research grants but it made no difference to my teaching/admin load and that is not unusual- this is one of the points I think the article is making. The idea of a grant that stipulates that the grant holder should be made professor is more than a bit of a fantasy, it would just not happen.
Universities were founded as places of education to teach undergraduates. The idea that they should be places of research is a recent one. Teaching brings in 2/3 of income even for research intensive unis. I agree that requiring every E to be outstanding at everything is unreasonable, but clear guidelines for promotion are important to get away from a place where Charles Spiffing, the HoD's best mate gets a professorship by 40, but Jane Doe, whose record is just as good or better is still a lecturer at 50.
That mediocrity is EXACTLY what the vacuous dullard jealous and vindictive anti-academic managerialists running our universities most desire. Because it makes them feel more comfy at a #UniversityNearYou for being academic failures themselves, "going forward" "mindfully" on their "journey" of destruction.
Managers without research expertise/training trying to manage research productivity. Academic researchers without managerial expertise/training trying to manage universities. What is the world of HE coming to?
A good article. One problem: Most not-geniouses-professors will recognize their inabilities as genious skills...

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