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Academic administration is a branch of university or college employees responsible for the maintenance and supervision of the institution and separate from the faculty or academics, although some personnel may have joint responsibilities. Some type of separate administrative structure exists at almost all academic institutions. Fewer institutions are governed by employees who are also involved in academic or scholarly work. Many senior administrators are academics who have advanced degrees and no longer teach or conduct research.
Key broad administrative responsibilities (and thus administrative units) in academic institutions include:
- Supervision of academic affairs such as hiring, promotion, tenure, and evaluation (with faculty input where appropriate);
- Maintenance of official records (typically supervised by a registrar);
- Maintenance and audit of financial flows and records;
- Maintenance and construction of campus buildings and grounds (the physical plant);
- Safety and security of people and property on the campus (often organized as an office of public safety or campus police);
- Supervision and support of campus computers and network (information technology).
- Fundraising from private individuals and foundations ("development" or "advancement")
- Research administration (including grants and contract administration, and institutional compliance with federal and state regulations)
- Public affairs (including relations with the media, the community, and local, state, and federal governments)
- Student services such as disability services, career counselling and library staff.
The chief executive, the administrative and educational head of a university, depending on tradition and location, may be termed the university president, the provost, the chancellor (the United States), the vice-chancellor (many Commonwealth countries), principal (Scotland and Canada), or rector (Europe, Russia, Asia the Middle East and South America).
An administrative executive in charge of a university department or of some schools, may be termed a dean or some variation. The chief executive of academic establishments other than universities, may be termed headmaster or head teacher (schools), director (used to reflect various positions ranging from the head of an institution to the head of a program), or principal, as used in primary education.
Like other professional areas, academic administration follows a specialized and often highly abstract terminology. This terminology often depends on that used in military strategy (as in Strategic Planning) and business management (including Public Relations).
Digital era brings a communication overload and intense stresses of the job are threatening administrators mental or physical health. Administrators are operating in an era of multiple continuing crises, unreliable supply chains etc. Prof. David D. Perlmutter dean of the College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech University suggests several questions to ask about the regular meetings which administrators hold:
- Are these meetings necessary?
- Do they have to happen as often as they do?
- What is the best way to distribute information, especially in a governance culture, so people can be aware of it and act upon it without being overwhelmed?
- Do people understand the steps and goals of the process, or are they just participating out of tradition?
- Can the number of participants be reduced without hurting governance?
- Do we need to modify any of our processes because of the lack of face-to-face interactions that have occurred off and on since the pandemic began?
Academic administrations are structured in various ways at different institutions and in different countries.
Full-time tertiary education administrators emerged as a distinct role in Australia from the mid-1970s, as institutions sought to deal with their increasing size and complexity, along with a broadening of their aspirations. As the professionalism of tertiary administrators has developed, there has been a corresponding push to recognise the uniqueness and validity of their role in the academic environment.
As of 2004[update], general staff comprised over half the employees at Australian universities. Around 65% of these are female. There has recently been a shift in the preferred nomenclature for non-academic staff at Australian universities, from "general staff" to "professional staff". It has been argued that the changing in role of the professional staff has been due to the changing work that they are performing, as professional staff assist students with technology.
The overarching body for all staff working in administration and management in Australia is the Association for Tertiary Education Management.
The structures for administration and management in higher education in the United Kingdom vary significantly between institutions. Any description of a general structure will therefore not apply to some or even many institutions, and therefore any general statement of structures may be misleading. Not all UK universities have the post of Registrar.
The Director of Finance may report to the Registrar or directly to the Vice-Chancellor, whilst other senior posts may or may not report to the Registrar. This next tier of senior positions might include Directors of Human Resources, Estates, and Corporate Affairs. The Academic Registrar is often included in this next tier. Their role is mostly to accomplish student-facing administrative processes such as admissions, student records, complaints, and graduation.
The overarching body for all staff working in administration and management in the UK is the Association of University Administrators.
In the United States, a college or university is typically supervised by a president or chancellor who reports regularly to a board of trustees (made up of individuals from outside the institution) and who serves as chief executive officer. Most large colleges and universities now use an administrative structure with a tier of vice presidents, among whom the provost (or vice president for academic affairs, or academic dean) serves as the chief academic officer.
The ten highest-paid administrators at private colleges earn an average of about $2.5 million per year, while at public colleges the figure is $1.4 million. These figures includes both base pay and other income.
Deans may supervise various and more specific aspects of the institution, or may be CEOs of entire campuses. They may report directly to the president or chancellor. The division of responsibility among deans varies widely among institutions; some are chiefly responsible for clusters of academic fields (such as the humanities or natural sciences) or whole academic units (such as a graduate school or college), while others are responsible for non-academic but campus-wide concerns such as minority affairs. In some cases a provost supervises the institution's entire academic staff, occupying a position generally superior to any dean. In other instances the Dean of a College may be the equivalent to a Provost or Vice Chancellor or Vice President for Academic Affairs. Below deans in the administrative hierarchy are heads of individual academic departments and of individual administrative departments. These heads (commonly styled "chairs" or "directors") then supervise the faculty and staff of their individual departments.
The Chair of a department is typically a tenured or at least tenure-track faculty member, supported by administrative staff.
All levels of the university have administrative staff, reporting to Chancellors, Presidents, Provosts, Deans, and Departmental Chairs.
- Richard Utz, "Against Adminspeak," Chronicle of Higher Education, June 24, 2020.
- "Admin 101: Campus Administrators Need Self-Care, Too". www.chronicle.com. Retrieved 2021-11-22.
- Conway, Maree. 'Defining administrators and new professionals.' PERSPECTIVES, VOLUME 4, NUMBER 1, 2000: pp. 4-5.
- GORNALL, L. (1988) `New professionals’: changes and occupational roles in higher education. perspectives, 3(2), pp. 44-49.
- Conway, Maree and Ian Dobson. 'Fear and Loathing in University Staffing: The Case of Australian Academic and General Staff.' Journal of Higher Education Management and Policy, Volume 15, No. 3,: pp. 123.133.
- Szekeres, Judy (2011). "Professional staff carve out a new space". Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management. 33 (6): 679–691. doi:10.1080/1360080X.2011.621193.
- Wallace, Michelle; Marchant, Teresa (2011). "Female administrative managers in Australian universities: not male and not academic". Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management. 33 (6): 567–581. doi:10.1080/1360080X.2011.621184. hdl:10072/42428.
- Graham, C. (2013). "Changing technologies, changing identities: A case study of professional staff and their contributions to learning and teaching". Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education. 17 (2): 62–70. doi:10.1080/13603108.2012.716376.
- "Executive Compensation at Public and Private Colleges". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 14 July 2019. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
- Why Are Campus Administrators Making So Much Money? and The $7 Million University President, by Lawrence S. Wittner, CounterPunch
- Higher Education’s Aristocrats, Jacobin
- How university students infantilise themselves, by Jonathan Zimmerman, Aeon. "Asking administrators to solve every problem infantilises students, even as it contributes to the top-heavy bloat of our universities."
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