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Management Management / Leadership page 3

 
 

School Administration
More recently, Schools have become increasingly popular. Schools are under the direction and supervision of Department Heads or Directors and, infrequently, a Dean. At many universities, Schools of Art, Design, Architecture, Planning, Music, Drama and Performing Arts, etc. have replaced what formerly were Departments. I can only speculate that Schools has connotations of professional education and this is desirable from the standpoint of recruitment. However, most state university visual art programs are still grounded in Liberal Arts requirements and philosophies.

My first encounter with the School type of administrative organization was the School of Art at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor during 1976. Dean Bayliss invited me to come and give a lecture. Unknown to me, one of the teachers had died during the year and the Dean was looking at me as a possible replacement. After the lecture, Dean Bayliss invited me to his office where he asked if I would consider taking the open position in Graphic Design? At one point I inquired as to how Graphic Design was organized and who was Department Head? He then explained that the School had no Department Heads and that he and the Assistant Dean oversaw all the various programs of study. My immediate and spontaneous reaction was to laugh. When he asked what was funny? I told him that I had never heard of anything so ridiculous in my life as a school without leadership for each program. I never received a formal letter offering me the teaching position.

During the day at the University of Michigan, I spoke with a number of individual faculty members from a variety of programs. They were as frustrated, cynical, angry, disgruntled and unhappy as any group of faculty that I have ever met. They were uncommitted to teaching and the institution. Their attitude was to concentrate on personal work, do the minimum while going for the maximum, it was only a job.

The problem is not what roof is used for instruction in visual arts, it is the organizational structure that is imposed with the new label. Schools of Design might have two to six disciplines under the singular leadership of a Director or Department Head. Schools of Art might have six to twelve disparate disciplines under singular leadership. This includes some if not all of Foundations, Painting, Printmaking, Drawing, Sculpture, Photography, Video, Ceramics, Fibers, Jewelry, Graphic Design, Industrial Design, Art History and Art Education. Within this array of programs there is an enormous diversity of objectives, content, methodology and requirements.

While it is credible for a Department, Division, Director or School Head to administer to a unit composed of several different programs in terms of records, budgets, services and maintenance, it is blatantly preposterous to think they can provide educational leadership. Each program has special leadership requirements that are going to vary from one program to the next, and one person cannot hope to fulfill all those needs.

At most institutions, this weakness soon became apparent and problems were dealt with in an ad hoc manner. The Director or Head selected a person from each of the disciplines, or logical grouping of disciplines, such as Fine Arts or Crafts. The individuals were given a designation of Coordinator, Program Head, Chair, Senior Professor or some other such title. The designation is usually with the consent, and at the invitation of, the Head. Occasionally, it is by election of faculty members within the program. Positions are not part of the university technical organization, there is no official description of job duties, conditions for appointment, no authority, no remuneration other than release time. It's an ill-conceived and thankless position. Denial of program leadership by administration should be unacceptable because of how it affects educational quality, faculty interaction, program planning, curriculum, etc.

One program I know of dealt with this situation through the faculty members within a program declaring themselves to be a Committee of the Whole which is an option under academic governance. As a committee, they elected a chairperson from their number to speak for them. The Division Head soon learned that life was simpler to simply appoint the Chairperson of the Committee of the Whole as Program Coordinator. I think this was good strategy by that faculty.

I can only speculate as to how and why this change in traditional academic organization took place. It is true that there were problems with the Department organizational concept. There were tendencies to create small fiefs, to compete and bicker among themselves, to be autocratic and sometimes abusive. In almost every case, problems occurred because administration did not take action to replace inept or abusive Department Heads, or because there was no prescribed review system where faculty could rid themselves of a Head who did not have the confidence of faculty members. However, with strong leadership and support of faculty, Departments can be incredibly effective as instructional units.

Justification for changing the organizational definition for Department Head might be as simple as administrative paternalism, that managers could do a better job. Eliminating Department Heads greatly reduced the number of people working with Deans, it eliminated rivalry between Departments. Generally, this means a smoother administrative operation, administrative expediency. Combining all departmental administrative duties into one office eliminated duplication, administrative efficiency. Reducing the number of Heads to one represents considerable financial savings both in terms of salaries and payroll. It also reduces the number of expensive searches for qualified Department Heads, a bottom line dollar and cents decision.

 

Impact of Reorganization
While it can only be speculated why the change in educational organization has occurred, the impact on education and faculty interests is crystal clear. The motivation for change was not based on improving educational quality. Eliminating program leadership might be more efficient from a managerial standpoint, however it is devastating to faculty and educational programs. It eliminates educational leadership at the most important level in terms of faculty and students. The Department Head as a program head and teacher has been transformed into a head of programs and administrator.

Without structured program leadership which is conducive to team effort, faculty members within a discipline are more likely to work separately. This affects the consistency and intensity of instruction with detrimental effects on the overall educational experience for students.

I have taught at two university Schools of Art and my experiences with faculty were about the same except one was more intense than the other in terms of faculty discontent. I found older faculty members to be divisive, disgruntled and focused on their personal work. They put in the required time at school and left as soon as possible. They were more concerned with their welfare than they were with students. I rarely heard any of them discussing students or education. There were always some young faculty that were still enthusiastic about teaching and students, but in time, this dissipated. This was totally different from my experiences at independent schools of art where faculty within strong Departments took pride in teaching, they were concerned with students and almost constantly looking for ways to improve the Department and educational experience.

I believe this disillusionment and cynicism is due in part to the School organizational structure which by its very nature promotes every teacher going in separate ways. This is detrimental to the development of team effort and common educational goals. What is perhaps most unfortunate is that once these changes are made,in time they become difficult if not impossible to undo. A good example of this is what has happened when universities relied on graduate assistants rather than creating additional faculty lines. Once the weaknesses of over-reliance on graduate assistants became apparent, it was impossible to establish new faculty lines to correct the situation.


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