Working together with a shared vision 3

April 16, 2009

Your leader "Different players, same side" (9 April) raised a very important issue: the relationship between administrators and academics is as important as any other issue facing academia. If everyone specialised in their own subject, they would seem cut off from problems of university governance and management. It is a strange situation where the very issues academics think about, such as the nature of society or education, do not have more of an impact on administrative decisions.

But your leader proposes a rather "management-style" solution and an uncritical view: that we should learn to live together and that nothing can be done to change the basic dichotomy. Surely a university should not simply take such seemingly "obvious" and "reasonable" conclusions for granted.

If administrators and academics have different ends - one concerned with the "social relevance" of research and teaching, and the other with understanding what a society is or can be - we need to consider what the purpose of a university is. Otherwise, there is a danger that we merely consider different groups of people and their different ends, assuming these profiles in an uncritical way. Then we face the challenge of finding a third way, a way of "rubbing along" while accepting the differences between them.

Academics puzzle over things such as social roles and expectations, but then may be told by administrators what their students want and what role they need to play in society. The concrete work of research, teaching and learning might seem to exclude administrators, but there may be good reasons for this. It may change minds about what is "relevant", and this is challenging for both academics and administrators.

By seeking compromise and acceptance between two groups defined by their present roles and situation, we give up the wider debate about the role of a university and uncritically accept a way of understanding people, their relations and their potential. Instead, we should consider the potential of universities without defining them in terms of two groups of people. Otherwise, we allow a situation to develop that has consequences for how universities are run on the assumption that to take a stand is unreasonable and unrealistic.

Edward Willatt, University of Greenwich.

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