staff relations

I’ve gotten involved with a committee on “staff climate” issues at my university. I’d thought this would be mostly about how rude faculty and students are to staff. And this is a real issue. Staff are often treated as part of the furniture (i.e. ignored as people) or as the targets of abuse by faculty or students who want something done and don’t  care about what else the person has to do.

But I’ve also learned that a huge issue is the relation between department staff and central administration staff. Department staff have many different kinds of paperwork to do, do some of them only rarely, and make mistakes. Central administrators are seen as failing to recognize their own inconsistency in how they want things done and as being unhelpful, hostile and even abusive toward department staff. I chatted with Blue Monster about this and learned that he (as a dean) says these issues are endemic, but at his institution they pay central administrative staff well to fix mistakes made by department staff. There is an underlying structural cause of this conflict: faculty and students want decentralized staff who are available to meet our needs in a personalized way, and department staff typically prefer jobs that involve a lot of variety and human interaction.

Another staff issue at our place is frozen [low] salaries and limited career paths.

What about your school? Do you know how the staff feel about their working conditions? And specifically department vs central administration — do you know how that works at your school? Are the relations good or bad? Do you recognize structural/organizational features that help or hurt the situation?

Author: olderwoman

I'm a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. I keep my name out of this blog because I don't want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I'd be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn't either), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I've been involved with. You can read about my academic work on my academic blog --Pam Oliver

3 thoughts on “staff relations”

  1. Since no one else is chiming up …

    The dept. vs. central staff conflicts here seem to be pretty minimal. The conflict I’ve seen focuses on two issues: software “upgrades” that are rolled out before the bugs are fixed, thereby creating more work and frustration for the people “on the ground,” and OSP. OSP might not be a good example of dept. vs. central conflict, though, because even OSP staff hate OSP.

    Assuming this difference between my uni and Olderwoman’s/Blue Monster’s is real, it could be a function of my university’s unusually high degree of decentralization. This opens up a bit more space for job growth “locally.” It also makes the central staff, at least in the offices with whom departments regularly interact, small enough to be known on a personal level.

    Oh, and the staff last year received higher raises, on average, than faculty. Granted, many more staff than faculty positions were eliminated in the budget cuts, and some of the staff positions still had people in them at the time. But I think the staff *that are left* think that they’ve been treated relatively well, all things considered.


  2. Word, olderwoman! I give my TAs and grad students a little spiel on the importance of being respectful, professional, and nice to staff when we start working together. Treating staff well is not only a measure of a person’s character (which alone should be enough) but also vital for getting stuff done.


  3. We don’t have as much of a formal divide across administrative and departmental staff, probably because their are diverse strata on both sides and there is job mobility back and forth. However, at the upper grades of staff conflict arise over senior positions, which are generally reserved for people who pass qualifying exams for accounting–and then for those who have college degrees. The latter is a formidable ceiling, and often people of different grades perform essentially the same administrative tasks (for dramatically different pay….).


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