How your university works

A day in the life of your university administration…

“Oh hello, come in, come in, lovely day isn’t it? Here, let me hold the door for you…so good to see you all, yes, just look at you all – students! Professors! My, we don’t see many of your types around the university anymore these days, do we? Lovely to know that you’re still around. All right, have a seat, shut the door and we’ll get the meeting underway.

“Oops, do we have enough seats? Oh dear, I’m just a poor old Vice-President Research, doesn’t count for much at this university apparently, does it – I don’t even have enough chairs for you all in my lounge. Here, I’ll bring one in from the other room. What do you think of the wood panelling by the way? Just completed last month. First-rate cedar, that is. Western red cedar, shipped direct from Oregon. No second-rate wood panels for a first-rate university, hey? And do you like the carpet? Installed only last week. Why, just two days ago I had a university president from Ontario in for tea and he said he’d never seen such a fine carpet. Fair trade carpet, hand-made in Kyrgyzstan, that is. Why the one in his own office is five years old already, can you believe it? And they only re-panelled the wood in his office two years ago. Where DOES all their money go? Well, one thing you can’t blame us for is wasting the government’s money. No, we put it to use as soon as we get it, and we stretch it quite impressively. New wood panelling AND new carpet for the VP-Research office in one year, that’s impressive budgeting if I do say so! And money left over to hire a marketing agency to produce our annual report in holographic 3-D imaging. We must keep an edge up over the competition, you know! And have you all received hard copies of the annual report? I hope you liked the gilt leather binding. Anyway, our new Assistant Deputy Second Comptroller is doing a fine job with her Committee for Achieving Fiscal Congruities in Wooden Panelling, I must say. Make sure you have a look at the new façade in the Dean of Arts’ office next time you’re over in the Imperial Oil Post-Colonial Studies Building. Makes my office look like something out of last year’s sitcoms.

“Now then, let’s get this meeting underway, shall we? The fifth meeting of the year for the Joint University Committee for Prioritizing and Improving Positive Efficiencies on Campus. My assistant here will be taking minutes and has drawn up an agenda, but you know, I propose we more or less ignore the formal agenda and go by a consent agenda, what do you say? What’s that? Oh you’re new, you’re the new graduate student representative, are you? Pleased to meet you. Consent agenda is, well, it’s sort of like a bicycle I suppose: I steer, and when I decide to stop, I stop. You consent to my right to make the agenda whatever I like. It works quite well in the University Senate and Board of Regents. When you go by formal rules of order there’s all sorts of questions and comments and nothing ever really gets done, as I’m sure you know. But here at this university, we’re all about getting things done! If we weren’t, I’d never have gotten my wood-panelling and new carpet.

“Now I will begin by apologizing, you’ll notice our ranks here on the Administration side of the Joint University Committee are quite thin today. Well, we’ve just appointed the new Dean of Students – more on that later – so she’ll be joining us for the next meeting. And the Assistant to the First Executive Officer of the Vice-President’s Sub-Committee on Human Relations is unfortunately unable to attend as the HR rep. What’s that? Why not? Well, you know what’s quite remarkable – poor old Larry is about to go on holiday, his first holiday in four years. Can you believe it? That’s how hard-working he is. It’s well-deserved though, so I told him not to worry about missing this meeting, we all know how hard he works and we’d understand.

“What’s that? He’s missed every meeting so far this year? Well yes, come to think of it, I suppose he has. He’s just *that* busy! Very busy man, so busy he hasn’t been able to attend any of our meetings yet this year. You should be delighted – shows how seriously and importantly we view this committee, when we appoint a representative who’s too busy to actually attend any of our meetings. Means he’s very important! I’d be flattered if I were you.

“Anyhow, shall we move on to the first item of business? Appointment of the new Dean of Students.

“You’ll be delighted to know that, after our two-year search process, we’ve officially appointed the new Dean! Her name is Dana Taylor and she’ll be joining us for the next meeting. I know three of you – Alison, James, and Shinsuke – were members of the search committee that’s been working so hard these past two years to hire just the perfect Dean of Students, so I’d like to extend my personal thanks for your hard work.

“What’s that James? Who’s Dana Taylor? Why she’s the new Dean of Students. No, I know she wasn’t the Search Committee’s first pick. Yes, I know you were on the Committee and I know the committee did not recommend her for the position. No, she wasn’t the Committee’s second pick either. Well you see, she wasn’t actually interviewed by the Committee. Now James, please don’t get upset, the Search Committee did a wonderful job! Why McMillan and Associates is considered the best Executive Recruiting firm in the country and the Search Committee worked closely with them and you all did a fantastic, bang-up job! Wonderful candidates you found, and good job ranking the candidates. Of course, while we appreciated your work – and trust me, search firms like that don’t come cheap! – in the end the president had to toss out all your recommendations. Why? Well, I mean you made good recommendations given what you had to work with – yes, good recommendations, but not remotely acceptable, you know what I mean? Look at your first pick, for instance – Larry Soren. Yes, he was a highly respected professor, and the students love him, yes I know, but…really, all he has is a stellar teaching and research record and a great history of working with students! That would hardly cut it for our new Dean of Students! Why, he has almost no senior administrative experience! How is he supposed to know how to run the office of Student Affairs when all he’s done is taught students and worked with students and has never held an administrative portfolio higher than the position of assistant dean! Why, he doesn’t even have any experience in the world of corporate finance! How are you supposed to hold your own in a fast-paced academic environment without any corporate business experience? Administrative experience, that’s what counts these days. And it was not easy to find, let me tell you.

“Who picked this woman? Well, the President did in fact. You see, she’s an old colleague of his, so they go way back. He knew she’d be perfect for the job – nothing beats first-hand experience, right? Takes one to know one, and all that. So after he tossed out the committee’s recommendations he phoned her up to see whether she was interested in the job. He cares so much about this university, he was determined to hire her, no matter what the cost. And the cost wasn’t cheap, let me tell you! We had to double our executive compensation offer for her! She insisted on both the standard estate in Clovelly as well as a summer home in Rocky Harbour and a pleasure yacht for the Caribbean cabana that was part of her termination package from the position she held at her previous university. Yes, her compensation package cost quite a pretty penny, let me tell you. Shows what an amazing Dean she’ll be!

“All right then. Next item of business…establishing a ‘Committee to Study Prospects for Promoting Positive Initiatives’. Well, I’ve got to tell you, I’m all in favour of this initiative. I wasn’t at first but now I am. What do the rest of you think?

“What? What will be the purpose of the committee? My son, the purpose is to identify the need for further study and research into initiatives that will improve the achievements of this university!

“What sort of initiatives? Well…positive ones. You know, like, well, hiring more people. More people to do important work here at the university. A university is only as strong as its people, I’m sure you know.

“What’s that, Professor Andrews? Hire more faculty? Yes well I’m sure you’d like for us to hire more faculty, and sure I’d love nothing better, but budgets are tight these days. No money around to hire professors. No, I was thinking what we really need, more than another English or Math professor – I was thinking what we need is a Chief Information Officer. What do you think?

“What would they do? Well, they’d…coordinate information. You know, whatever all our current information and publicity staff don’t do. Why, their first task could be to figure out what they’ll do! If we hire the right person, they’ll figure out a need for themselves. I can think of several consultants who would just love to make the jump from corporate industry into the academic environment. More wood panelling in the offices, see?

“Oh dear, you’re all quite hung up on hiring professors. But I mean, we have SO many of them! And we don’t have a single Chief Information Officer! Look, I’ve even started writing the job description. What do you think: ‘The chief information officer will report jointly to the provost and to the vice-president (administration and finance). This reporting relationship reflects the pan-university and multi-campus scope of the position and the fact that the management of information and the systems that make it available are a blend of centralized/decentralized approaches that span academic units, academic support units and service units.’

“Eh? What does it MEAN? Well, I don’t really know off-hand, but what does it matter what it really means? I mean, what does anything really mean in this day and age? But it sounds pretty, doesn’t it. ‘Pan-university’? ‘Multi-campus scope’? Gosh they’ll soon be giving awards for verbiage like that. And I was thinking to myself, what sort of approach should they take? A centralized approach? A decentralized approach? And it struck me: of course! They’ll take a ‘centralized/decentralized approach’!

“Approach to what? Why, to whatever it is they decide they need to do, of course!

“Eh? Where are you going? You’re leaving? Why are you leaving? Oh don’t be upset. Maybe next year we can hire a professor or two. Oh, you’re leaving as well, students? You’re all leaving? Why do you all seem so angry? I mean, if we create this new position we can have a delightful search process, take all sorts of candidates out to all sorts of delicious local restaurants, have a wine and cheese reception when they’re hired – doesn’t that sound nice now? Oh, you’re all leaving? Why do you all look so angry at me? Running a university is hard work, you know. Well, have a nice day – oh! Please don’t slam the door on your way out! If the wood gets chipped we’ll have to order a replacement! Could cost as much as a new professor, you know!

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