Just an administrator?

If you work as an administrator (particularly Grade 7 and below), within university administration, how do you define yourself, when asked by others “What do you do for a living?”

To a large extent, we define ourselves by our job, and so how would you answer the question just posed?  Many of us have a standard answer to the effect of “I work at the University of Kent”, but more often than not, this is usually met with the reply “Oh, are you an academic?” to which we meekly reply “No, I’m just an administrator”.

Sometimes, (deliberately or not), the emphasis of our intonation falls on the word “just” almost as if we are apologising for our profession and slightly embarrassed by it.

Labels at work are important.  Take for example, the term “non-academic”.  Should we be defined by what we are not?  The term, “the admin team” can sometimes convey a sense of dumbing down and even the term “support staff” has an upstairs/downstairs flavour about it.  Anyway, are we not all partners in this together, and don’t we all support students in the customer focussed environment in which we work nowadays?

Shouldn’t we be proud of being a university administrator? After all, the Nolan Committee  referenced in the University of Kent’s Annual Review 2013 defines that university administrators/managers should aspire to the seven principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.  These are qualities that we uphold everyday in our working lives and are all elements of being a true professional and of displaying professionalism.

What do we contribute that is so important as university administrators and why do we think it’s essential to be viewed as professionals? Well, a key function of our roles is to serve the public interest and to properly manage public funds.  We serve the needs of a variety of stakeholders including:  students, their parents, students’ eventual employers, our colleagues who also work in Higher Education, commercial clients and suppliers, and the government.  This is a broad remit of responsibility and certainly not something to be ashamed of.  Students see administration staff as their first port of call and we often “fill in the gaps”, supporting the students when academics are unavailable and being asked the questions that students are often afraid to ask academics.  You could say we do the “glue” work that goes on behind the scenes – and that it is done best when not noticed.

However, not being noticed can sometimes lead to anonymity,  invisibility and a feeling of being undervalued (remember how we introduce ourselves to others!)  But by playing down our function, we are in fact contributing to old stereotypes and falling foul to professional snobbery.  In fact, this message can apply to all positions across the university. We all have a very important and relevant role to play and to actively celebrate and promote our unique contributions can only be a good thing

One thought on “Just an administrator?”

  1. Labels are interesting – they give us identity. At the outset this might seem trivial, a nice-to-have, but identity is important and often guides our decision making (see chapter 7 of ‘Switch’ by Chip and Dan Heath, 2010). If I am only an administrator, I will only make contributions within the bounds of that identity. If I see myself as an equal colleague I might be bolder and more interested in suggesting things which I see affect, for example student satisfaction and the reputation and future of my school.

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