Dear Curious

Dear Ms. Scholar, I’m curious. Do you have thoughts about the new administrators coming on board and what characteristics make strong administrators?

Ms. Scholar at work.

Ms. Scholar at work.

Dear Curious, Of course! Ms. Scholar  has many thoughts about what characteristics strong university-promoting administrators share. Administrators can strongly influence morale among students, faculty, and the university community. They set the vision and tone for the university – where are we going, how, and why? They help us retain our accreditations, advocate for us with legislators and possible donors, and build a physical plant that allows us to perform our job well.

Given these important tasks, Ms. Scholar would like to see the new administration do a number of things, including:

Be respectful. When Ms. Scholar spoke to colleagues about this question, the first words out of most of their mouths were “respect us!” Sad state of affairs that we need to ask for that rather than this being a given. When workers, including us, feel heard and respected, they are more productive, take fewer sick days, and experience less burn out. Communicate your respect for us and the university becomes a stronger place.

Build morale. We have a long history of being a collegial and supportive institution, of being a place where people like to work. Help us get there again.

Recognize and encourage our strengths. Comment on our strengths when you see them. We’ve made a good comment in a meeting? Tell us. When we publish something, be interested. Tell us what we should do to become stronger, but remember to tell us what we do well. Ms. Scholar still remembers Dana Still, provost in the 1970s and ’80s, and later served on the Council of Trustees, who knew the faculty by name and always had a good word for us. This small thing – okay, not so small – was very important for the university during difficult times. It still would be.

Perceive our positive intentions. We all want the best for the university, but faculty, staff, students, and administrators may disagree about how to get there. When we disagree, remember our positive intentions; we will try to do the same for our new administrators.

Create a sense of vision. Our administration’s vision for the future helps us actualize our best selves. Articulate and communicate such a vision. Help us imagine something larger than ourselves and a way of getting there.

Please, though, make that vision include a strong emphasis on learning and growth, both for our students and the people who work here. Defend the liberal arts. Recognize the contributions from all fields.

Bring in and value diverse views and perspectives. Ms. Scholar loves the story of Abraham Lincoln, who created his cabinet from the strongest people in the field, including those who vehemently disagreed with his viewpoints (Bailey, 2012). We think it is important to have people who are willing to serve as devil’s advocates on a committee or task force. We recognize that this is difficult and anxiety-provoking, but trust us to work with you to identify problems, address concerns, and make your/our ideas stronger.

Maintain a clear and consistent path. We have often been confused in the last years by the changing perspectives and goals of administration. We recognize that new data and ideas become available. We get that. We are confused by the idea du jour that is never carried out, especially when it is dropped without explanation.

Learn our CBA. We understand that unions can be frustrating for administrators, as they may feel that our contracts tie their hands; however, we believe that unions create a safer atmosphere, one that is supportive of everyone. In the best of all possible worlds we imagine a time when unions will be unnecessary – although we don’t imagine this any time soon.

Despite your concerns, please follow the rules. When you fail to do so, you create an atmosphere that feels capricious and unfair. You may disagree with the rules, but please use formal channels to change them. As will we.

Be open and transparent. Talk to us openly and honestly about what you’re doing. Tell us why you’re doing what you’re doing. Ask us what we think. Such discussions foster our sense of community and teamwork and help us understand what might otherwise seem counterintuitive.

Be fair. You don’t have to treat all faculty and departments the same – we have different needs in terms of resources, support, and identifying effective approaches to meeting our needs – but we shouldn’t perceive that you’ve chosen favorites.

Be fair, also in your taxes. If you take a pound of flesh from us, we should see that you’ve given up your own pound of flesh.

We are hopeful for our new administrators. Please give us something to rally around.


Bailey, S. (2012). 6 ways to make a team of rivals work. Forbes. Retrieved from

If you have questions regarding teaching, student/faculty issues, or other comments/suggestions, please write to: Ms. Scholar c/o

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