December 14, 2011
Quick Review of Rudolph H. Weingartner's Fitting Form to Function
As a new Associate Dean for Academic Affairs & Research, I've taken on a number of administative functions this year. I'm still not at all clear that the administrative life is the one for me, especially at this point in my academic career. Having had a career before becoming a lawyer, I'm probably more comfortable with budgets, hiring and firing, and office politics than some. Of course, that doesn't mean I necessarily like it. After all, I did leave that career to go to law school.
Nonetheless, I agreed to take the position for a little while, and I'm committed to doing it as well as I can. Part of that has meant learning as much as I can about academic leadership and how academic institutions work. This is no easy task. Schools have very different sizes, characters, and resources, and this can have a significant impact on how to interpret even some of the "universal truths" of academic life.
Further, while I have found real value in reading some of the materials from leaders in academic adminstration, I also sometimes find the tone and tenor of how administrators describe faculty both patronizing and unnecesarily polarizing, even if the description is largely correct. (See, e.g., Stanley Fish). Some of this may be "youthful" idealism on my part, but I don't think the relationship between faculty and administration needs to adversarial. At least, not most of the time. I know that there are some faculty members who act like petulant children, but treating all faculty members as though they act that way means you are likely to facilitate similar behavior from others less inclined to do so.
Recently, I've been reading Rudolph H. Weingartner's Fitting Form to Function. It's a managable read that provides an nice "Primer on the Organization of Academic Insititutions." There's not a lot groundbreaking here, and yet I notice that an awful lot of people (from educators to administrators to legislators) could use the information contained in the book. Even if it's all elementary information, it's clear that information is not being put to good use in a number of settings.
The book also nicely provides a list of maxims to distill and "elevate" some "general truths" derived from the author's experience. Here are some that I find useful:
Maxim 6: If the organizational chart is the right one, and micromanagement exists, either the supervisor or the supervised is the wrong person for the slot.
Maxim 11: Committees whose mission is to perform routine and ongoing functions are ill suited to tasks that require them to move outside the framework within which they normally operate.
Maxim 15: An office that lacks goals of its own will tend to give priority to getting the process right over getting the job done.
Maxim 21: Refrain from making rules that make normal business more cumbersome merely in order to prevent offense that might be committed on rare occasions.
Whether you are an administator, looking for ways to help make a law (or other) school a little more efficient, or curious about why some things in academics work the way they do, this book is worth a look.