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  • Writer's pictureKane Murdoch

On "administration"

Evening all,

I have been known, on rare occasions, to let out what Eddie Murphy in his 1987 movie "Raw" referred to as "Filth, flarn filth." Swearing, or cursing, in other words. Being Australian I'm quite good at it. And few things make me filth or flarn more than pointless administration.

However, the thing about admin that is most likely to have me fill the air with flarn and filth is when people describe me, or my team, or the entire professional staff cohort as "admin." We're nothing of the sort, no more than an academic down the corridor might be a 4th rate teacher with more notches in their belt than citations to their name (to be terribly harsh).

There's long been a misunderstanding among many academics (certainly not all, and I'll come to this) about people who work for unis but who are not academics. Of course, this misunderstanding is borne out of the historical separation of academic life from everything else in the university. Every important decision made in the university used to be made by academics. No matter that their personalities and skillsets were often not suited to the work they were being asked to do. Echoes of this remain throughout universities, but there has certainly been a diversification among staff at universities. For those new here, this is a good thing. Generalists certainly have their place, but as work becomes more complex, as our contexts become more complex, we can no longer rely solely on willing amateurs.

Once things get beyond a certain level of complexity, unis must make the decision about whether to diversify their staffing to respond to this complexity with a more integrated arrangement of staff, or whether to continue to insist upon a rigid staff/class system and live with the weakness that implies. I'm going to pull up here to give you the space to rhetorically ask "Kane, what the flying FUCK are you talking about?" Got it off your chest? Good, let's move on.

What I'm talking about, now that I've started unpacking this thought, is how well people work together, how individuals perform in their jobs, and why. Let me explain. I've mentioned before that professional staff usually have no tangible incentive to do their current job, to improve, aside from simply getting paid. However, I have had the great fortune to occasionally work with academics who recognised what I could bring to their endeavors, and I recognised what they could bring to mine. In other words, earning respect and being seen as an equal partner in a shared enterprise becomes its own form of incentive.

So when someone, let's call them "academic A" refers to me, or to my team, or to the broader group of professional staff as "admin" it is a reminder to me and all of us that we are often not seen as having any value or worth to them, let alone being seen as partners. So while I may be unusual in that I will plough my own furrow out of sheer spite, many will simply shrug their shoulders crumple up that request from academic A and dunk it in the trash. Disrespect breeds disrespect, and our shared enterprise is worse off as a result.

I've persistently advocated for team-based delivery of subjects, leveraging specialised skills to produce a higher quality education for our students, rather than leaving it all on the shoulders of an academic. This will take some acceptance by the academic class that they cannot do everything, and nor should they attempt to. It's foolish and self-defeating. Others can shoulder that load with you. But some of that self-esteem, some of that identity, will have to be shared with non-academic staff. But the first step is to recognise professional staff as professionals, and the second step is to respect them as peers.

Maybe one of these days incentives for professional staff doing a better job may also be tangible, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Until next time,


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