Home » Blogging » Things I Learned (TIL) Part One

Things I Learned (TIL) Part One

I tend to not have New Year’s Resolutions, since I live my life by the academic calendar and have thought of the new year starting in September. But, 2019 is about change and I don’t have any big resolutions beyond continuing to be more mindful of my health. This post will speak to things I learned in my five years as an Academic Administrator and this is part one of likely a few posts.

At the university where I have worked, Academic Administrators (AA) are faculty and protected under the collective agreement; however, I learned that many of faculty colleagues did not know this and assumed that an AA was one of them. You know, the big, bad administration. I don’t like the us vs them discussion, but I realize why this tension exists. There are tensions on university campuses and in some departments the tensions are thick in the air. That said, for brevity I will number the TIL.

1. Human Resources (HR) staff are indispensable. I found the consultants, workshops, and array of resources critical. If you are managing people, you need to confer with the HR professionals for assistance. Faculty normally do not get trained on people management and this needs correction. Managing teams is hard work and you need to be thoughtful and strategic.

2. Collaboration is key. If you are serving a department, parts of campus or the entire campus in your AA role, you are going to collaborate with lots of people and you will need to get out of your former silo and be prepared for this new environment. Embrace it!

3. Listening. In my faculty role, I was used to being the guide on the side or sage on the stage. As an AA my role was completely different. I was part of the team and had to learn to hone my listening skills. During my tenure as an AA, I got a tattoo on my arm that reads: Listen Learn Lead. It was my mantra as a middle management leader on campus.

4. Leadership. I tried to be the kind of leader that I wanted to work for and that took work. Again, listening is key as well as the humility to learn. For instance, I learned that it is critical to support your staff. I have had to make tough decisions around staff that included firing, hiring, and writing staff up for their performance or lack thereof. I had to participate in an investigation of a staff member’s terrible mistakes and also guide and support other staff upon their return to work. Empathy is an important part of leadership as well as good communication.

5. Managing up. I have worked for two provosts and a few vice presidents and learned that there is a revolving door with upper administration. Managing up is hard work. There are strong leaders, weak leaders, and terrible leaders and I have had the pleasure in departments and as an AA working for all of the types. The worst ones are the poor communicators, who lack people skills. Trust me–they exist and managing up is exhausting with those type of leaders. Here is where HR is again helpful.

6. Save your emails and/or get things in writing. Unfortunately, this is a reality of the job. You do need to protect yourself and at times will need the proof regarding a statement. It could be great news or a colleague’s angry email. If you don’t have emails, then write things down after an interesting meeting.

7. If you’re unionized–seek counsel from your union. I learned the hard way that I should have had my first contract reviewed by our nascent union. But, now I know my union representative and President quite well and they have helped me lots during the last two years. I learned that at times new leaders will not refer to the collective agreement and make mistakes. It’s key to protect yourself and not feel like you’re a problem when you point out that they are in contradiction to the collective agreement. You are protecting your rights as an employee!

8. I also learned that the upper leadership is homogenous. As a feminist, woman of color, in middle management and upper management there are few people who look like me or come from a working class background. This is a problem. We can do better in terms of equity, diversity and representation. I am not saying that the upper management needs more Latinas; however we need more than words on paper or holding events. And, sure, we could use more wise Latinas! Mentoring is important, but that is for another post.

I am no longer an AA, as this particular category was disestablished and all of us have been transferred or re-classified as Faculty Exempt, Management Exempt or Regular Faculty. I will miss my former department–of which I was the founding director–however, going back to teaching full-time is no hardship! There is more to come and my story continues.

I finished Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, last week and then my best friend sent me this shirt. It fits. Go high!

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