Academics should be moved out of their offices into open-plan areas to promote interaction between staff, administrators and students, a vice- chancellor has argued.
Julius Weinberg, vice-chancellor of Kingston University, said the current system of giving lecturers their own “cubby holes” stopped staff from mingling, which restricted the opportunities for them to link up for research projects.
Speaking at a leadership in higher education workshop held at the University of Oxford, Professor Weinberg said that the office set-up at most universities was outdated and made academics seem remote and inaccessible to students.
“I walk around my university and I see rows and rows of doors that are shut,” Professor Weinberg told delegates on 23 May. “I see signs saying: ‘I will be here on Wednesday from this time to this time.’ What sort of a message is that sending out to our students?”
He added that academics should embrace the open-plan offices seen in “information-rich environments” such as start-up companies, where shared office space enabled conversations between members of staff.
“Teachers love to work in rooms lined with books but I challenge the view that we need to have offices,” he said. “It is built into our psyche around the idea of the professor. We all imagine that day when we have our own office with our name on the door…but we have to ask if we have got this right.”
Professor Weinberg said he was keen to move to an open-plan office himself but had been advised by his administration team that having his own office was helpful. However, he added, he spent most of his time outside it in any case.
He added that he would prefer to spend money earmarked for office refurbishment on creating more coffee shops and communal areas to encourage staff to talk to each other.
Vice-chancellors should challenge orthodox thinking within their universities, rather than simply oversee the smooth administration of their institutions, he also argued.
“An interesting role of the chief executive is to go into opposition against their own bureaucracy,” Professor Weinberg said.