Sunday, August 18, 2013

Conflicting Expectations on Middle Management

In David Evans's post on From Faculty to Chair, you find this key insight:

The biggest thing I learned in my four years in that position was how to begin to balance the interests of my department and discipline with those of the college as a whole. It’s a cliché to say that the chair’s main role is to ensure the smooth running of the department and to advocate for it at the higher levels of the institution. That’s true, but my main discovery was that the chair’s mediating role also went the other way—to advocate for, or at least make possible, the functioning of institutional policies and initiatives at the departmental level. [Emphasis added]

This is something that many people miss when discussing the actions of their chairs, deans, directors, and so on. Just because these chairs/deans/directors were our colleagues until just the other day (implying that they truly share our views on "what is right" for our department/college/institute), we tend to assume away their other constraints and compulsions.

This came to me very clearly in 2009 when the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations were being implemented in a way that riled up a lot of IIT faculty who were sore with their directors for not coming out in open support of "their cause", and for not being their strong advocate at MHRD. Words like "betrayal" and "traitor" were in the air.

The underlying assumption, I think, was that the director's sole mandate was to represent them upstairs. It was shocking to see, therefore, that the director was actually acting as if he was MHRD's representative -- or worse, MHRD's mole! -- in their midst.