This Academic Life
  Organizational identity
I need to reply to Magic's latest round of responses to my thoughts on conferences, but that takes more time than I have right at the moment. Instead, here is a brief summary of two discussions I had today, both of which illustrate the centrality of organizational identity to our work as academics.

1) my department is engaging in a job search this year; it's actually a continuation of a search that didn't conclude successfully last year (don't get me started on that issue). In any event, there was some controversy about how many people could or should be on the search committee. Initially I was not asked to be on it, but I made the argument that this was not just another service obligation, but something much more important: an opportunity to help to shape the character of the department in a relatively profound way. Who one has in a department is much, much more important than formal organizational attributes of the department, and probably more important than things like degree requirements and the like. A search raises the question of what kind of department we want to be, and the very future tense of it means that there is an opportunity to exercise the kind of agency that doesn't come up all that often. And who one has around affects the kind of education that the students are getting -- and who one can use as second readers for theses, and who else one can send students to for additional instruction, and the general atmosphere of the place.

So of course I want to be on the committee, regardless of the fact that it will take quite a bit of time.

2) I attended a meeting today in which the university was contracting with an outside firm to audit the admissions website and see whether it needed to be redesigned. (I think it does; it's clunky, somewhat dated, and hard to navigate. But that's not my decision.) We hadn't gone more than five minutes before we got into a wide-ranging discussion of the identity of the university, what kinds of achievements we wanted to stress, and how different offices on campus understood that identity (the president's office, for instance, apparently has a set of five major goal points that they have not bothered to share with any of the faculty; since one of them is "practical education" (!) one would think that the faculty might want/need to have some input here at some point…also, significantly, none of these five goal points have any mention of academic or scholarly excellence, and the faculty as a body are almost completely absent from the list). Again, this becomes especially important because the admissions website attracts students, and thus plays a major role in shaping the character of the university in the future.

All organizational discussions are probably about identity. I get really annoyed when someone says during a committee meeting "let's just make a policy decision without getting into a big discussion about the overall identity of the program." News flash: policy decisions constitute "the identity of the program." So by not discussing it, one simply enacts a bounding of the organization's identity without being aware of what one is doing and why. This does not strike me as a good plan under any circumstances.

[Posted with ecto]

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"Academia als Beruf," or, an occasional record of the various aspects of my life as an academic. Written by "21stCWeber," an arrogant handle I know…but I must confess that I do want to be Weber when and if I grow up :-)



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