Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Makes a Good Administrator? (Part 1)

Let me shoot straight. I am, clearly, no expert on higher education and student affairs. But I have learned vicariously through the first semester and a half of a HESA program thanks to my wonderful fiance. 
So, consider this the first of a little series of posts discussing why things have gone so poorly at OBU for the new president, and why, I suspect, the BGCO plays a role in this drama.
First let me tell you a story. (And I promise it has a point!)
Dr. Robert Sloan was the president of Baylor University about 10 years ago. One of the things he did in his time there was implement the “2012 plan.” (Sound familiar?) This plan was one for great growth for Baylor, etc. But one of the things included in the plan was a hefty tuition increase (something around 27.5% the first year).
Obviously, students and faculty went nuts. 
Long story short, the faculty gave Sloan a vote of no confidence (basically a death-note for any president) and he left shortly after.
Here’s the kicker. 10 years later, no part of the 2012 plan has been changed. And Baylor is doing very well. Turns out, Sloan had some pretty great ideas and Baylor is benefitting from them.
So what’s the moral of this story?
The job of an administrator is not to make good decisions. The job of the administrator is to bring together the different parts and voices of his/her institution and to help them to work towards the goal of university prosperity. 
As one great OBU administrator explained to me, the administrator’s job is to be a translator. Faculty, staff, donors, students, alumni, and trustees all speak different languages. The administrator’s goal is to speak to each of them and get them all on the same page so that the university can move forward.
The problem is that current OBU administration speaks only one language: BGCO. As long as the BGCO controls the trustees, they will be able to put in administrators whose loyalties do not lie with the University, but with the BGCO. 
A college/university is already a complex place. It is not a business. You cannot just fire people who you are unhappy with. (Though it seems current OBU administration has tried.) Your product is students, something you cannot commodify. The faculty is its own brand of monster. Donors and alumni will add yet another set of competing goals for an institution with limited resources.
As long as the loyalty of OBU administrators lies with the BGCO they cannot speak all the languages necessary to do great things for OBU. Even if the administration is making great decisions-- it doesn’t matter. 
Honestly, I don’t know enough to know whether The 2020 Plan is a good thing. But I can tell you this: few on that campus trust the administration right now, so it doesn’t matter if their plans are good or bad. 
Look for my next post on where the administration is going wrong with current students and recent alumni.

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