Providing good jobs in academia

College faculty members and administrators each need a good job in order to do a good job. There's a growing body of evidence that their jobs are deteriorating and in need of considerable revisions. Here's three books that reveal what's become of jobs in academia:
  1. As I read Saving Alma Mater- a rescue plan for America's public universities, James Garland taught me that the job of a public College President is impossible. The demands placed on the position exceed human capabilities. There's a need to orchestrate lobbyists to correct the short sighted thinking of legislators about improving access, lowering costs and funding growth. There are donors and alumni to lure into making bigger donations. The Provosts and Deans need leadership, mediation and and confrontations. There are conferences to attend, speeches to give and receptions to host. Then there's the actual issues, trends, decisions and strategies to think through, discuss in meetings and summarize in written form. There's too much to do and not enough time. The same holds true for everyone in administrative positions. 
  2. As I read WannaBe U - Inside the Corporate University, Gaye Tuchman taught me how easily academic departments fall into turf battles, political infighting and stalemates. Faculty members who bridge the chasms between silos or reach out to the administration get caught in the crossfire. The academic side of universities are experiencing as state of siege as financial and accountability pressures invade their realms. Faculty members are routinely stressed out, vigilant, apprehensive and uncontrollably defensive. On occasion they lash out against others, vent their frustrations and make the working conditions worse for everyone within earshot.
  3. As I'm reading The Lost Soul of Higher Education, Ellen Schrecker has taught me how meaningless it's becoming to teach at the college level. Academic freedoms are getting eroded by the culture war that erupted after 9/11. Academia is getting held in contempt by conservatives, framed as a threat to national security and suspected of traitorous intentions. The change has come over higher ed that now imagines colleges have brand names, revenue drivers and competitive advantages over rivals. This makes investments in quality teaching, hiring and research become questionable expenses. The faculty are plagued by abrupt cutbacks, cancellations and terminations which are making no sense, destroying their sense of purpose and weakening their commitments. 
All these developments stand in stark contrast to jobs that enable doing a good job. Briefly here are the components of effective job designs which I've synthesized from my extensive reading and consulting:
  1. Personal discretion: The job can specify what needs to get done but then leave it up the employee's better judgement for how to get it done. This frames the employee's self critique as something to nurture into more comprehensive and nuanced self-evaluations. Micromanaging and wasted efforts get ruled out by this effective  form of delegation.
  2. Quilted mission statements: Each employee gets valued for differences in their outlooks and frames of reference. The meaning of obligations, expectations and incidents is expected to be highly personalized. There's no way to get everyone in the same page with a blanket mission statement. But there are lots of ways to validate and cultivate the personal meaning of what's occurring.
  3. Respected for practicing: It takes repetition to refine methods, procedures and models. Once something becomes a successful routine, it become reliable and worthy of respect. There's satisfaction in the competency itself, as well as the reputation for being able to handle situations that call upon those routines.
  4. Collaborations with colleagues: While working around others, common interests emerge as well as diverse talents to cover each others' shortcomings. This sets up lots of potential collegiality where each makes a difference in others' work and receives the same benefits from participation and contributions to collective efforts. 
  5. Mentoring and getting mentored: It seems like we have a deep seated instinct to nurture the next generation as it follows in our footsteps. We also feel a deep appreciation when the older generation takes an interest in our own development. The combination of giving and receiving this special kind of attention adds a big dimension to workplace commitments.
  6. Watching the scoreboard: When we can see the metrics for ourselves and others, we feel grounded and confident. We recognize areas where we can improve. Outcome measures can reveal ways to coordinate with others, cut back on excesses, eliminate duplication and create more efficient protocols. Everyone then takes more pride in the work, responsibility for problems and initiative beyond their job descriptions.
  7. Predominance of intrinsic motivation: All these prior dimensions of a good job bring out the best in us. We use our unique talents where they apply most effectively. We get creative and insightful about situations in need of a change. We enjoy feeling self motivated and protect that energy when asked to compromise or undermine it.

The reinvention of higher ed calls for major remodeling of jobs along these lines. Without changes along these dimensions, everyone in academic employment will do less than their best, allow problems to get worse and work against the interests of colleagues and their institution's survival

Note: This post addresses issue: 7. Revising job designs
of the 15 Issues in the reform of higher ed.

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