Sunday August 8, 2010
University senates have no bite
By DR ARZMI YAACOB
A UNIVERSITY Senate (consisting mostly of deans who are academics) helps with the governing of faculties and academic matters.
Academics however, are convinced that the actual power is not with the senate but with the varsity’s management.
Since it controls funds, those who are part of the management have the power and ultimate say in deciding where the funds should go to ensure their institution is among, if not, the best.
The varsity’s management will put forth the argument that since the bulk of funds come from the government, it is accountable to the government and not the academics, who are represented by the senate.
Like many other organisations, a university functions with limited resources.
To be effectively managed, these resources have to be centralised before being disbursed to respective faculties, centres and divisions.
Much of the funds is allocated towards the salary of staff members including the academics.
Centres of excellence
Of late there has been an increase in centres of excellence created by universities to promote their relevant expertise and fields of study as warranted by the industries.
The centres are to be staffed by academics who are there on secondment as administrators from other faculties.
These academics have their teaching load reduced to enable them to carry out their duties in the centres effectively.
To solve the work load left by these academics, those who do not hold any administrative positions are asked to help out by taking in more students into their respective classes.
There seems to be no choice. It takes time to recruit a new academician and to find the right one as good as the one who is seconded.
Administrative positions are held on rotational basis and seem to carry more weight, which is why it appeals to some academics.
Moreover, it is a convenient excuse used by the academics when they fail to present writings and research.
So, some may try their best to be appointed, and will try to hold on to their posts for as long as possible.
Holding on to the position over a long period of time can be detrimental to an institution of higher learning.
Ascendancy to excellence is never by accident. It has to be a system that has to be both strict and fair to all concerned.
If an institution wants to remain at the top, it has to have a gauging system of high quality, respected by others as fair and just.
Years ago there was no quarrel because the voice of the academics was powerful and the management listened to them on how best to produce good graduates needed by the nation.
The management was always there to lend support as an auxiliary force.
Now, the roles are reversed. It is the management that is becoming more powerful and the academics are just the followers.
To the students, the best academics are the most enthusiastic, constantly updating them with relevant facts, figures and events.
The academics, in turn, are constantly seeking to upgrade their knowledge without seeking favours or expecting a lesser workload from the the management.
Their pride is in their work in the form of publications, presentations and research papers.
Is it not ironic that despite doing so much, the academics are at the mercy of the varsity management?
Role of managers
What do university managers do?
No one denies that managers are expected to manage and become effective managers with the regular courses they attend to upgrade their skills.
The performance indicators are a good way to gauge their competence.
My point is that the university management should not be headed by academics.
Academics are not trained to do managerial tasks.
They will be able to discharge the delegated duties only satisfactorily.
True, those seconded are taught the techniques of administration through courses given, but their minds have been trained as specialists in their chosen fields and subjects through years of study from graduate to postgraduate levels.
Consider the tasks academics who hold administrative posts have to carry out, like managing budget, planning tasks and projects, developing strategies and other cost-effective actions.
It is impossible. They cannot see the relationship of the tasks delegated to them with the long-term needs of research and teaching of which they are trained to do.
If there is anyone among them who performs well, it is only a relative comparison among the mediocre. He is thus made to look good.
This will not be the case with the manager whose duty is to ensure that all rules drafted are followed accordingly and in accordance with government policy.
Who bears the blame for the poor preparation of a task in a faculty or a centre? It is none other than the academic.
They face the risk in the preparation and the execution of tasks, but with no power to see that they are implemented effectively.
The management has the power, but more often than not, none of the blame.
The writer is an associate professor in management at a local university.
He can be contacted at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org