Mutual respect and teamwork are vital

July 6, 2017

As an academic and a potential “have-a-go marketer”, I was intrigued and challenged by the article “Have-a-go marketers need to show respect for professional staff” (Opinion, 29 June) about the need for academics to show more respect for professional staff. It was an uncomfortable read, too close to home to be shrugged off easily. After reading it, I emailed our marketing team and asked how we could work together more closely.

What saddens me is what the article reveals about the state of universities. The article is a story of an educator who can’t justify their plan, and a marketer who can’t sell their strategy to their own colleagues.

Until all university staff function as one team, delivering a multifaceted experience to a diverse group of people, there will be disrespect across the academic/professional staff divide. The answer is a respectful meeting of minds, not sniping across the professional divides. Once we have a shared purpose, based on mutual respect and open communication, then we can build universities to be proud of.

Mark Allenby
Senior lecturer
University of Northampton

A couple of years ago, I wrote a rather scathing piece on university marketing for Times Higher Education (“Words fail us: marketing-speak damages the brand”, Opinion, 24 September 2015). Here’s a sample: “In other words, marketing can much too easily damage the perception of those very aspects of the university it purports to promote: critical thinking, independence, originality, innovation, rigour, prestige, and, if we really must, ‘brand’.”

This would seem to place me firmly within the target “have-a-go marketer” demographic. But the devil, as ever, is in the detail. Academics can be critical of university marketing strategies and yet have the utmost respect for their marketing/administrative colleagues. Indeed, I spent quite some time this weekend, during our university open days, singing the praises of our administrative (and technical) staff. They are the lifeblood of any university.

Nonetheless, just as it is arrogant for academics to dismiss out of hand the key contributions of their marketing colleagues, it is similarly unhelpful for university central marketing to ignore the advice and input of academics. Many schools and departments put a great deal of effort into public engagement and outreach. Academics visit schools, give public talks and lectures, connect online via social media, and communicate and engage with prospective (and current) students in a wide range of formats and forums, including the lecture hall.

The best marketers don’t ignore the important feedback that academics can provide via these engagement channels; they incorporate that crucial information in their marketing strategies.

Marketers know very well the value of good communication channels. As an academic, I’d like to make a suggestion to my marketing colleagues: let’s talk.

Philip Moriarty
School of Physics and Astronomy
University of Nottingham

Academics do indeed often seek to act on a great deal outside their academic remit while having insight into too little. This is, in academics’ defence, usually based on a personal urgency to respond: to do something – usually lots of things – to solve an important or intractable problem.

As an academic and a non-academic who have worked together for six years leading the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology, rather than working separately, we favour both channelling their passion into working together more and better. The skills, positioning and contributions of both are necessary to get things done in our large organisations. This should be built on valuing not only the organisational benefits of doing so but also the intellectual richness that arises from working with those from different backgrounds. This epitomises the diversity that many academics pay lip service to but far fewer enact.

Working together in this way challenges us every day: to seek first to understand, to listen, work openly and relationally, to empathise, and to commit to end results over status anxiety or role consciousness. Easy? No. But much better? Yes.

Alexander Clark
Board chair, International Institute for Qualitative Methodology
University of Alberta
Bailey Sousa
Director, IIQM

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