Bridging the hybridity between academics and administrators
For decades, universities have been described as hybrid organizations where different types of employees (read: academics and administrators) lead completely separate lives, both have their own niches and work interests. Compared to the corporate world, they would not be able to formulate future-proof strategies and respond to the ‘needs’ of contemporary society. Within the walls of the university, it is ‘an organized anarchy’ in which decision-making processes can be defined as ‘garbage can’. Several researchers (and good ones at that) have, in recent years, expressed themselves in such terms about the university as an organization.
Despite such criticisms, academic organizations have proven able to respond to an ever more rapidly changing world for hundreds of years. Universities continue to prove their added value, and they are perfectly able to demonstrate their public value. Universities adapt to the environment, change a little bit, but remain unchanged in their core.
It is interesting to note that academic organizations have elevated this hybridity and adaptive ability to core organizational competencies. The balance between academics and administrators is a battlefield where the interacting spheres will increasingly realize that they need each other to achieve top performances. Expressed in a metaphor, the academics are the football players that can only excel on a football field that has been prepared to perfection by the administrators: the grass is mowed, the lines are chalked, the ball is pumped, the nets are cleaned and so on. On the other hand, the administrators derive their sense of pride from the achievements of the academics and from the additional earnings (through the arrival of additional students, extra subsidies, etc.) that consequentially – in cooperation with each other – are earned.
Academic organizations where cooperation between academics and administrators is more intensive and stronger also appear to be powerful brand names in terms of quality and durability.
It is good to realize that it is mainly the administrators that – regardless of the subject interests of the academics – strategically align the academic organization and its management and leadership with the future. They often reason from an organizational interest and create a bridge between academics and administrators. In that way, they keep the organization strong and powerful.
It is good to note that the EAIR as an association emphasizes the link between research, policy and practice. The EAIR forms a platform where researchers and practitioners can discuss opportunities and challenges in higher education and together can search for common solutions.
The EAIR faces the challenge of facilitating and encouraging the administrators in the exchange and development of knowledge and evidence-based practice in the field of higher education policy, organization and management. It would be good if we can take initiatives in our European association to give shape to the professionalism, also through concrete professionalization programmes, of a great occupation – educational administrator!
Ton Kallenberg is a member of the EAIR Executive Committee.
Director Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University, the Netherlands