Are we really different beasts?

By Cindy Vallance

In my recent blog about student blogs, I mentioned that one of the key reasons for the existence of the Social Sciences Change Academy is to recognise and do our utmost, as individuals and as a collective group, to demonstrate the power of bringing together the complementary viewpoints, experiences and capabilities of students, professional services staff and academic staff.

By focusing on activities that demonstrate our commonly shared values, we demonstrate our commitment to a vision of an inclusive yet diverse educational community – one in which everyone is treated with dignity, respect and fairness; an environment in which collaboration and innovation can thrive.

This healthy environment will only develop if we get beyond stereotypes of what it means to be a ‘student’ an ‘academic’ or an ‘administrator.’ One practical way to do this is by listening to others; for instance by tuning in through social media to what students are saying. Another way is to consider the words of John Gill, THE editor, from an article in the Association of University Administrators (AUA) magazine. He states:

“The view that administrators and academics are different beasts who will never get on may still be deeply entrenched in some people’s minds, but it cannot be right in the 21st century. Yes, they are different, and yes, academics will never appreciate intrusive or overbearing management, but when it is supporting the institution, supporting research programmes, and – perhaps most important of all from the point of view of professional services staff – supporting students, then I really don’t see how anyone can object…”

I must, of course, add to this quote that professional services staff will also never appreciate conspicuously uninterested or arrogant academic practice, and that similarly, students appreciate none of these negative qualities; qualities which we see demonstrated on a day-to-day basis more than we might like to admit.

It is up to each of us as individuals to question the received wisdom that has led to these divisions separating ‘us’ and ‘them,’ to constantly challenge these unhelpful behaviours and to work to exemplify their opposites.

If we do not, then all we are left with is empty rhetoric about equality and diversity and a weakened belief in the  power of education to change lives in a positive way. And isn’t our belief in the power of education a large part of why we have chosen to be members of a University community in the first place?

Reference: Profile Article: John Gill, THE Editor, AUA Newslink, Issue Number 73.

5 thoughts on “Are we really different beasts?”

  1. Perhaps, a helpful way to navigate through this area is to keep recalling that all staff within a University support and enhance the learning community. Indeed at a Canterbury AUA event held in March this year, one of the key themes which resonated with me particularly was the idea that we should all see ourselves as helping to create a fantastic learning environment – no matter what role an individual played in this. If this is used as a guiding principal, then surely this should help everyone embrace and celebrate the different roles people undertake in this endeavour. 

  2. Cindy, I agree that we need to move away from accepting unhelpful behaviours and notions of ‘that’s just how academics are’ or ‘what else do we expect – they are admin’. We need to shape up and start moving towards ways of working that reflect the purpose of our institution – namely education through research, teaching and the enabling of personal growth (in terms of things such as employability, a greater sense of place in society, social skills, appreciation of others, intellectual reasoning, physical well-being, communication of ideas etc). In this sense we all have a role in creating the learning environment that Melissa mentions. I like your suggestion about ‘tuning in to students’ through things like social media; awareness of students’ thinking through direct or indirect means can only be helpful to enable us to better understand our role in the University.

  3. Thanks Melissa and Simon for taking the time and effort to comment.

    There is so much to be gained when we work to truly understand different perspectives.

    Another way beyond social media for those who prefer reading paper rather than pixels is to pick up a copy of THE, the AUA magazine, or the Guardian education supplement, to name just a few.

    1. I was recently involved in a working session for a mixed group of academics and admin staff which underlined the potential for a true, shared view of how to improve, change and develop as an institution. Both groups worked through topics in separate peer groups, but when they came together to share ideas found that they agreed on the issues across the board.

      The group realised (and verbalised) the fact that they had a common view of ineffective and effective ways of working together. It struck me that people who want change and are open both to the ideas of others and to looking at things from a fresh perspective have, in essence, more in common with each other than they have differences in job, function, personality, experience or preference.

      It is this common sense of purpose that will energise change – to move from small beginnings to a much higher level of participation and a much more visible degree of impact.

  4. The view that administrators and academics are different beasts who will never get on may still be deeply entrenched in some people’s minds, but it cannot be right in the 21st century

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