What makes an excellent University department? LO22963

Steve Eskow (dreskow@corp.webb.net)
Sat, 23 Oct 1999 10:54:07 -0600

Replying to LO22950 --

Nick Heap writes,

>I may have an opportunity to work with a troubled University department.
>Relationships are poor and their is little cooperation. The
>sub-disciplines just tolerate each other. The head of Department wants to
>set up a group of the most positive staff to identify how things can be
>improved and implement positive changes.
>I think they may find some examples of what excellent University
>Departments do and how they are managed, useful. These would also stretch
>my thinking. Do any of you have information ideas or sources on this? I
>would also appreciate any comments. This would be my first major
>developmental project in a University. They are not like commercial
>organisations at all.

I have worked with many such departments, and the best advice I can give
you is to reconsider your assumptions: a) that academic organisations are
not like commercial organisations, and b)that it will help this department
to show it models of happy organisations elsewhere.

Academic departments are troubled for the same reasons as any other
organisation, and the difficult part is getting beyond and behind the easy
explanations, like "personality conficts" to find the specific and
particular reasons for the conflicts here.

You probably need background and context. How does this university reward,
promote? How does it budget? Are the conflicts generated by the scarcity
of promotions, salary increases? Are some faculty angry because they think
they have been overlooked unfairly in the distribution of rewards?

Are there issues generating conflict: say, one faction wanting more reward
to go to teaching, and less emphasis on research? Has such an issue led to
factions: a teaching faction, a research faction?

You might need to make an analysis of power and decision making. Is the
department leader called "head" or "chair"? Does s/he have a large budget
of power, or is s/he really a chair who presides, but all decisions are
made by vote?

If the department keeps minutes of its meetings, reading the archives can
often give you insight into the nature of the conflict.

If not, interviews of a deep kind may be needed to get at the real sources
of the conflicts.

Steve Eskow


Steve Eskow <dreskow@corp.webb.net>

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