head of department, day 89

Today is one of those days that’s full of meetings. Two with students anxious about their projects, one information meeting about the reorganisation of the arts and humanities faculty, and a meeting with the dean and the faculty director about The Future Of The Department.

One of the most annoying things about the university “democracy” is the lack of clarity in the circulation of information and the vagueness of where decisions actually get made. Although now I’ve been doing this Head of Department thing for a couple of months I’m realising that a lot of the reason things appear to be messy and disorganised is that I don’t know the routines. It’s true that there’s no job description for a person in my position, and you’d think that that’s something a huge organisation like the university, with its 2000 or so employees and many many heads of departments would have thought of making, but no, I asked and there isn’t. On the other hand, it’s only now after two months that I can see the huge amount of work the secretary, the student counsellor and the head of our office do. We share this administrative staff with literature and linguistics, and previously I really didn’t understand what they did, apart from pay bills and book teaching rooms. Now we cooperate wonderfully, and thanks to them, largely, this head of department thing doesn’t seem as scary or time-consuming or unsurmountable as it appeared at the start.

And yet, even assuming that I simply don’t yet know how to see how everything works, it does seem that the university “democracy” we supposedly have is rather illusory. We elect our president, and our deans, but only about 10% of staff and students vote. No wonder: the candidates’ programs are all more or less alike, if they even bother to say what issues they actually care about. More worrying is the, oh, see, I don’t even have the words to describe it, because it’s fuzzy, not obvious, but it just seems that a lot happens in the corridors, between people who know each other, rather than in the formal meetings. That’s social networking for you. It’s a great way of keeping power in the group, in an unobtrusive way. But ya know, I reckon I can learn to play the network.

Hopefully in a few more months I’ll be able to see that this isn’t really the case. It’s just that I didn’t actually quite understand the system yet. (After all, I’ve only been an employee here since 1999, and I began studying here in 1990, with just 2-3 years elsewhere.)

26. April 2005 by Jill

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