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The Unhappy Professors: 9 Sins of Academic Administration and Why Academic Leaders Should Care

The Unhappy Professors: 9 Sins of Academic Administration and Why Academic Leaders Should Care

by Dani Babb
April 30, 2015

Frustrated online faculty can hurt enrollments, keep great faculty from applying for positions and demoralize the team left behind. 9 sins academic administrators make and why they should care – and what AdjunctPreneurs believe online education can be today.

A lot of what we focus on as educators and on this site is how to get jobs, how to keep jobs, how to expand our workload and how to become an Adjunctpreneur®, if that is your goal. We talk about writing curriculum vita's, crafting the perfect cover letter, having your transcripts ready to send right away, how to impress the potential boss on an interview and how to ask others for a letter of recommendation.

But what we rarely talk about is the administrative side and the repercussion of university bad-press coming from faculty, how seriously they should take it, and what they should do about it when it happens. What we do know is that administrators lurk in our forums and they do watch what is said/thought of about their departments and schools – but my impression is that the lurkers are the ones who care. It’s the administrators who do not lurk that perhaps understand less what it means for faculty to lose faith in their institution – and the long-term damage it can do.


Questions administrators should ask – and understand – include:

  • What does it mean for universities to get bad press with us, as faculty?
  • How does the negative press spread among faculty?
  • What happens to a university's reputation when faculty feel repeatedly slighted or mistreated by administration?
  • Do these perceptions or feelings have any real impact on the school that they should be concerned about?

All good questions. I have had many administrators tell me that there are always faculty waiting in the queue they can hire on, so a few unhappy folks aren’t worrisome. I remind those same administrators that loyalty really can (and should) exist, even in the adjunct world, in the online workplace. We understand when a business or institution needs to make a decision for its own survival; small business owners (AdjunctPreneurs are all small business owners) understand this very well. But when you lose faculty who have been loyal and engaged with the university, you lose a sense of community, there is a feeling of loss among existing employees (just like in any brick and mortar institution, albeit perhaps to a lesser degree), and the institution loses tacit knowledge. In the worst cases, former faculty turn into whistleblowers, contact the government, write articles, join forces with law firms to help sue institutions, and go to accreditors with their documentation.

Imagine if as small business owners we had to hire and train new employees every month. That’s not a way to run a business – or a university.

In our Facebook forum, professors talk about the worst sins at institutions… things such as:

  1. Unfair evaluations (evaluations with the intent of firing/laying off/bringing in your own team/friends or without looking at whether the assessor is accurate)
  2. Dean assumptions that students are correct and telling the truth over the word of a professor
  3. Administrators asking faculty long after their course (and pay) have ended to continue to help them fight a grade appeal
  4. Overreliance on automated reports that are often erroneous or do not take into account how a class is setup (maybe there is a week with no discussions, and the report says you didn’t post that week for example)
  5. Not receiving a class after taking medical leave, or worse
  6. Unrealistic expectations (like working every Christmas)
  7. Excessive meetings (one institution becoming notorious for micromanagement went to a weekly meeting model this past week)
  8. Being let go with no explanation – or more often, not getting a new contract
  9. New administrators coming in and removing existing faculty to replace with their colleagues from other institutions

This happens too frequently without understanding the repercussion to the school, particularly when faculty begin to collaborate together outside of University controlled platforms. It's unlikely that faculty will complain about how they are treated on a University's message system, but they very well may take to social media tools where they can commiserate, and even use anonymous names to talk about how schools treat them as faculty - and if they feel (or felt) like they are a valued member of the team.

When one faculty member complains, it's an anomaly and looked at as such. But often we will see many more professors jumping on the same thread commenting how they were treated in the same manner (and often by the same people) at a university.

Why should administrators care? Beyond building goodwill, doing the right thing, building a respectable institution and the loss of tacit knowledge, administrators sometimes fail to realize that students (or would be students) are also in there looking for a place to go to school or work at. Seeing negative comments creates concern for potential students who may be considering a college and who want a stable institution with faculty who feel part of their institution. Who wants to support a school where high faculty turnover and upset professors are the norm? The forums also level the playing field – allowing students to see what faculty perception of an institution is (and what graduates of that same school think). It’s my opinion that administrators should take this seriously, and look to building a loyal faculty base founded on mutual respect.

High turnover, for whatever reason, can be costly in many ways. Certainly there are times when faculty (even in large numbers) refuses to budge on status quo or change with new standards and requirements -- and when that happens -- layoffs may be justified. I remember sitting in a meeting when a school was changing to a new LMS (the decision had been made) and about 25% of the faculty said they refused to use that new platform. You know what happened to those 25%. Justified. The business owner calls those shots. Sometimes it is better to have some turnover and start with motivated folks.

But when faculty feel as though institutions are repeatedly committing the worst of sins, people talk. The playing field is leveled with social media, and the institution may lose students (and other good faculty). There may always be some faculty member who will fill those shoes, but whether they are the best ones for the job is another story. The damage may already be done.

As AdjunctPreneurs, we are big advocates of the mutual respect model; we believe that academic freedom isn’t dead (but perhaps reshaped a bit), that we can still build loyalty and a happy efficient workforce remotely, and that we can choose not to work somewhere if we find a pattern that we can’t live with. We also believe that loss is mutual; we didn’t just lose a paycheck, but the institution and the students lost a great faculty member. As a business owner I know this takes work and sometimes you have to make decisions people don’t like. I also know it’s entirely possible to make decisions that are difficult and sometimes needed for survival while still building brand loyalty – both internal and external.

For this reason, I hope more administrators begin to lurk (or participate as some dean’s do!) in our forums and understand how to build and maintain loyal faculty who love to work for their institution – and spread that word!