What to Do About the Rise of Administrative Duties in Higher Education

June 15, 2021

Many people imagine that professors' primary jobs are to educate students, and therefore that is where most of their energy is being spent. However, underneath the task of teaching, there is a long list of administrative work educators must perform. This administrative work is known as ‘service’. Service often takes the form of committee work for a college or university. Committees have a wide range of responsibilities and powers bestowed upon them, and are meant to be a form of shared governance.  

Examples of some committees in higher education are curriculum development, promotion and tenure, faculty development, student grant reviews, graduate admissions and funding, and many others. 

In theory, this concept of shared governance in higher education improves outcomes and fosters innovation by leveraging the talents of teams of faculty members. In practice, committees often do not live up to their potential, and can even be a hindrance to quality teaching and governance. 

The issue is not a lack of commitment from faculty members to perform their duties well. Rather, it is a lack of clear guidelines and guardrails that lead to confusion and frustration. To unlock the true potential of shared governance, higher education institutions must invest in developing the right infrastructure to support it. 

Faculty Governance

Historically, faculty and administrators have had the power to collaboratively shape the future of their institutions. There is no denying that getting a group of smart people together who are passionate towards the mission of serving students, can come up with some creative solutions to the many pressing problems facing higher education. This work can be transformational, but without clear purpose can feel mundane and pointless.  

Guardrails and Guidelines 

In most instances, faculty committees lack clearly defined roles, responsibilities, meeting/project management skills and structures. The result is confusion, wasted time, and missed opportunities for students. Guardrails and guidelines need to be expanded on for how to create effective meeting agendas, create clear project charges, and develop communication protocols between committee members. 

It is important to realize that institutions rarely train incoming faculty or administrators in project management, strategic communication, or even how to effectively run a meeting. It is assumed that a brilliant scientist, sociologist, author, or artist can just step into a project manager role and succeed. Rather than realizing this gap, it is easy to place blame on each other for shortfalls.

Instead of pointing fingers or expecting faculty to suddenly become experts in project management, colleges and universities should construct guidelines to increase agility and effectiveness. 

The process of setting up agile governance:

  1. Clearly state the goals of each committee. Creating clearly defined charges for outcomes will empower each committee to live up to its potential. 
  2. Set guardrails to establish what is on the table to evaluate and what is not. Too often there are gaps and overlaps between committees because there are not clear guardrails as to what each assignee is responsible for.
  3. Create a template/process for highly effective meetings. This includes allocating a certain amount of time to address each item on the agenda, due dates for follow up items, and creating format to progress.
  4. Implement a timeline with actionable items and measurable goals. Maintaining focus on the progress of each goal will increase efficiency and improve outcomes. 


Process and Project Management Experts Can Help

Working without clear guidelines can be a difficult task for both faculty and administrators.   Bringing in an external partner like Van Allen Strategies can save time, money, and strengthen outcomes. Van Allen Strategies can facilitate the creation of improved process management and can be a lifesaver to faculty. Having an external partner can be objective, as to avoid potential bias while sustaining a clear view of the internal dynamics. The purpose of the partner is not to take over from faculty. Rather, it is to help committees reach their true potential of shared governance. 

Dreams of Agile Governance

Imagine a world where the true power committees were unlocked. Committees would be quick and responsive to changes both recurring (curriculum approval) to the unexpected (COVID). The burden of responsibility would rest with the many, but so would the power to produce valuable improvements. 

Imagine where instead of mundane, tedious meetings, committees ended each session with actionable steps moving forward. Instead of added work, committees could empower faculty to bring their unique strengths and insights to the table. Curriculum would be updated much more regularly. Improvements to racial equity could be addressed with the urgency required.  

Committees are full of bright educators who are passionate towards providing quality education to their students. By working with Van Allen Strategies, we can unlock the power of committees to empower faculty and serve students. 

Written by
Jacob Dolence

Jacob Dolence is a higher education professional with more than a decade of experience teaching, creating curriculum, and innovating the way students are educated for challenges of the future. He has served in both faculty and staff positions at institutions ranging from small liberal arts colleges to R:1 doctoral universities. His expertise and experience include curriculum development, outcomes assessment, student success, program building, student retention, entrepreneurship, community engagement, and student and faculty leadership development.

Jake Hannigan

Jake Hannigan joined the VAS team in 2019, and serves as both Business Development Strategist and Education Services Manager. During his tenure, Jake has been instrumental in leading VAS into higher education. He has worked in developing each of our education products and services, including our course Moving Face-to-Face Learning Online and Streaming Curriculum Approval. Prior to joining VAS, Jake spent his career growing and developing start-ups in the education and technology industries.

Karen Yoshino

Karen Yoshino’s decades of experience in higher education, regional accreditation, and standardized testing combine with her expertise in higher education leadership resulting in a unique resource for her clients. Karen’s consulting practice includes competency-based education program design, outcomes assessment planning and design, online program strategy, and analytics for program improvement. Her work in competency-based education includes public and private higher education, corporate and government clients.

Karen’s work as an educational consultant began in 2006 as a subject matter expert in assessing student learning outcomes. In this capacity, Karen has helped clients in the US and around the world including Hong Kong, Australia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and Mexico.

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