Blend administration roles

June 18, 2009

The debate about whether administrators should ever be allowed the title "professor" seems to me a part of the wider debate about the academic/administrator divide ("Call to reserve professor title for academic posts", 28 May). There is on each side of this divide a great deal of resentment, much of it understandable. Many talented and dedicated administrators feel looked down upon by academics. On the other hand, academics get the feeling that administrators view administration as the real business of the university and academics as interchangeable factory-floor workers.

I have a modest proposal. We should stop treating university administration as an exclusive career path. In future, all administrative appointments (starting at the bottom) should be half administration and half teaching or research. If a full-time administrator is required, two could be appointed to job-share, and each could be half research or teaching fellow in a department they are qualified to join.

This way, administrators would never develop the detached mentality one often sees: that the "real" university is there to control all those unruly academics, a view that infamously resulted in administrators at the University of Birmingham identifying the whole academic staff as a key "threat" to the university.

Administrators would have a personal involvement in the frontline work of the university. Academics would see administrators as academic colleagues who also have a central administration role.

Much of the cost could be met through savings on sessional teaching fees and through communication between the administration and experts in the departments: how many administrators needing legal or financial advice ever save money by consulting academics in the departments of law or finance rather than going to expensive outside consultants who are often less expert?

And, in due course we would find that some administrators were professors, and no one would object.

Richard Austen-Baker, Lancaster University Law School.

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