Tuesday, June 28, 2022

University Culture as an Amalgam of Professions

This morning I took part in a workshop on improving the culture in a university department. There were inspiring words, a lot of post-it notes, and some survivor guilt over COVID-19. What stuck me was that much of the discussion was inward looking, as if one bit of a university worked on its own. I do most of my teaching in a team with people from across campus, from a professional (non-academic) unit. I write papers with people at other universities in the Indo-Pacific. The university provides the infrastructure for me to do this. In return I teach students, and publish papers, which brings the university revenue, and reputation.

Most of what I do is also governed by external factors. The curriculum is derived from the bodies of knowledge set nationally and internationally by the professions. The way I teach comes from my other profession (teaching). There are international conventions, national, and local laws which govern what and how I do things. The particular institution I am working through does have a role in helping meet all those requirements, but doesn't have much say in what the requirements are. In a way I have more say, having helped write the professional standards, and influenced the laws which apply.

This is not to say a universality, or its departments, are not important for research and education. However, they are most important in supporting the people who do the research and teaching. The institution needs to ensure staff are competent to do the job, but then let them got on with it. When asked to teach I am given a couple of sentences of instructions, sometimes written down, but often verbal. It is then up to me to work out how and what to do. I can do that having been trained, qualified and certified.

One way university culture falls down, I suggest, is where the different professions roles are not recognized. Academics tend to assume that everyone else's role at a university is subordinate, and unskilled. However, HR, marketing, & teaching staff are required, among others, and each has their own expertise, which needs to be recognized.