Revolution Lullabye

January 13, 2009

Schwalm, “The Writing Program Administrator in Context”

Schwalm, David E. “The Writing Program Administrator in Context: Where Am I, and Can I Still Behave Like a Faculty Member?” In The Allyn and Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators. Eds. Irene Ward and William J. Carpenter. New York: Longman, 2002. 9-22.

Schwalm argues that the WPA position is a unique faculty and administrative positition because it requires a faculty member (usually a junior faculty member) to give up part of their independent, autonomous faculty identity and engage in administrative work that they may not have been trained to do. With that in mind, he offers a guide for new WPAs, organized through questions that many WPAs either have (or should have) to understand their new administrative role. His questions include “Where am I” (institutionally situated in what program or school), “Is my job real?”, “What do I direct”, and other questions that get at the structure of the university administration, how your institution is connected to and related to other universities and colleges, and a brief overview of how the budget works. Schwalm strongly suggests that WPAs read higher education administration literature so that they can anticipate trends and participate more fully in adminstration instead of always reacting to directives that they might not fully understand.

Quotable Quotes

“Authority and accountability usually go hand in hand” (14)

Notable Notes

The difference between cost and fund accounting


Weingartner, Fitting Form to Function

Weingartner, Rudolph H. Fitting Form to Function: A Primer on the Organization of Academic Institutions. American Council on Education: Oryx Press, 1996.

x-xviii, 115-117, 19-34

Weingartner’s guide to academic administration, based on 27 maxims that hold true across universities and departments, is grounded in the belief that good administrative decisions are based on an understanding of the relationship between administration and other aspects of the university (namely faculty), and so, in the different chapters of his book, he explains those specific relationships (like the role of the central administration, the deans, etc.) Faculty are independent of administration, and their career is based more in professional, autonomous values than the managerial goals of administrators. Administrators are almost anamolies on academic campuses: they don’t teach, research, or work as part of the more publically-known parts of the university (like a coach); instead, they manage the university’s resources and operations.

Quotable Quotes

Maxim 4: “To what position a given officer reports significantly affects the way in which his or her responsibilities are discharged” (115)

Maxim 18: “The responsibilities of an office must not exceed its authority, including budgetary authority” (116).

“Administrators are not merely called to decide, but to elict decisions from others and to collaborate with others in various ways of decision making, with the dual gaol of making good decisions and doing so in an appropriate way” (xvi)

Notable Notes

universities have many simultaneous functions

faculty objectives don’t come from administration: they “emanate, with few exceptions, from worlds outside the institution that employs [the faculty]” (xii), they act almost like “independent contractors” (xiii)

Birnbaum, How Colleges Work

Birnbaum, Robert. How Colleges Work: The Cybernetics of Academic Organization and Leadership. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1988.

The purpose of this book is to encourage and guide college administrators towards improving what they do by thinking about their work from multiple, complex perspectives. Birnbaum does this by providing case studies of higher education administration (through five fictitious institutions) and by showing how multidisciplinary management theories either do or do not answer the unique challenges of a university. Fundamentally, a well-run university is managed by administrators who can identify the organizational patterns (like a pattern language), follow them in their administration, and create new ones when situations arise where there are no appropriate patterns. The book is divided into three parts: the first explains the elements and concepts that define universities and colleges; the second presents the models used to explain higher education organization and management (collegial, bureaucracy, political system); the third combines those models and argues that a college or university is always being developed and reinvented through all these (as possibly more) patterns.

Chapter 1, “Problems of Governance, Management, and Leadership in Academic Institutions,” addresses the challenges to leadership because of the very nature of academic institutions. It centers around governanace, since a university has three different foci of control (duality of control): the board of trustees, the administration, and the faculty. Other problems include different, conflicting goals and missions (teaching, research, service), a disagreement in the type of power and control that works to sway administraiton and faculty, inflexible resources (personnel due to tenure), decentralization of authority among faculty due to academic specialization, and the conflicting goals of cosmopolitan and local faculty. Birnbaum suggests a model based on social exchange leadership theory – that the faculty and the administration are interdependent – should be considered in the development of an administrative plan.

Chapter 2, “Thinking in Systems and Circles: The Structure and Dynamics of Academic Organizations,” explains the difference between closed and open systems and argues that the university is anĀ  open, nonlinear, and dynamic system (which can seem chaotic), since it is comprised of so many subsystems whose intersections are so distant that a major change or failure in one area would not affect the entire system very much and other subsystems not at all. This is called loose coupling, and it allows for a greater sensitivity to the environment and the needs of each subsystem, which would not happen in a centrally-controlled, tight coupling system. Birnbaum advocates nonlinear thinking in circles and subsystems for administrators, arguing that an effective administrator is more interested in understanding the system than ruling over it with an iron fist.

Quotable Quotes

“Administrators with linear perspectives are likely to emphasize making rational decisions; administrators with nonlinear perspectives are likely to be concerned with making sense. Linear administrators think they know how the system works and how to change it; nonlinear administrators are more modest in their assumptions and expectations” (55)

“Effective administration may depend not on overcoming it [the chaos of an open system] but on accepting and understanding it” (41)

“The beliefs held by administrators and others who influence institutional life affect how they behave, how they interpret their experiences, and even what they ‘see'” (xiv)

Notable Notes

the symbolic president of university

Administration is organized around “the control and coordination of activities by superiors”; faculty around “autonomy and individual knowledge” (10) This is duality of controls. “These two sources are not only different but in mutual disagreement” (10)

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