Don't carp at managerial martyrs 1

February 18, 2005

The suggestion that there is a "perception in universities that some managers are little more than failed academics or glorified administrators" is offensive ("Manager roles fail to attract core staff", February 11). I and many other heads have to sacrifice time and research opportunities for the good of the team.

To suggest that managing academics (often likened to herding cats) is less intellectually challenging than spending years becoming a world expert in an erudite research area is ridiculous.

As a head of department, often appointed for a term of only three years, you are expected to persuade wayward and sometimes indolent colleagues to go in roughly the same direction without being provided with the "tools of management": promotion is governed by deans more interested in budgets than personal development, it can take more than a year to secure a new appointment and "academic freedom" means you are unable to challenge colleagues over anything to do with their academic competency.

Heads of department stick their heads above the parapet for both colleagues and senior managers to shoot at. The job requires nerve, social skills, political awareness, charisma, creative accountancy, patience, a thick skin and a (dark) sense of humour. In return, the incumbent is rewarded with a paltry honorarium, a meagre reduction in teaching commitments and an expectation from senior managers that you will drag your department into 5* status within six months.

It is true that universities need to pay more attention to academic leadership and middle-management roles. It is also true that many of those who hold academic managerial positions are doing so without the expectation of significant career or financial reward. Such altruistic tendencies deserve commendation rather than criticism.

Magnus Johnson
Hull University

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