The Academic Administrators Network (AANet) team celebrated the release of its final report by gathering to crack open geodes that Melinda Cerny, team captain, had given to each team member last year as a symbol of their project.
Rough-textured and unremarkable on the outside, a geode often contains a surprisingly beautiful crystal within. "Our project was a difficult one, and the geodes were a reminder that our work could result in something remarkable and positive for MIT students," Ms. Cerny said.
The AANet's final report focuses on ways to ensure consistent, high-quality service to all students and faculty within each academic department at MIT while also reducing the cost of these services.
The report makes recommendations in five broad areas: advising, the role of the academic administrator, MIT's culture of overwork, collaboration and partnership, and improving technology. In order to identify the issues and concerns of academic departments, the team conducted interviews and surveys with faculty, academic administrators, students, and staff from the Registrar's, Bursar's, Admissions and Dean's Offices. In addition, team members did research on the best practices at institutions that are comparable to MIT.
The team found that MIT faculty and staff are deeply committed to serving students well, but the following concerns surfaced repeatedly: the advising system needs to be revised, faculty and staff feel isolated and overloaded with responsibilities, and better use of technology is crucial to providing better service to students.
In response, the AANet team developed recommendations intended to address these themes while also creating a more productive, satisfying and cost-effective environment. In particular, the team believes that a spirit of collaboration and partnership between faculty and staff is critical to improving services to students. Below are the AANet's recommendations for each of the five areas.
The advising system at MIT needs to be examined, redefined and revised. Faculty have full responsibility for this service to students but cannot successfully address all aspects of advising without support from and involvement by staff, alumni/ae and students.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Develop an Institute mission statement on advising that defines the term so there is a shared understanding of what it means across the Institute
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Define the role and responsibilities of the advisor and advisee so that all students can expect consistent, quality service from each academic department
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Involve faculty, staff, alumni/ae and students in the advising process so all students receive sound advice in the areas of academics, administration, careers and personal support
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Develop incentives and awards for advising so it's universally perceived as worthwhile and important
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Create an ongoing process to review, revise, update and improve the advising system.
THE ROLE OF THE ACADEMIC ADMINISTRATOR
The academic administrator role is pivotal because this individual represents and responds to the interests and concerns of faculty, students and Institute staff. Academic administrators are perceived by faculty and students as an important source of wisdom and knowledge in the areas of advising, department policies and procedures, and Institute rules and regulations.
"Academic administrators are often the first person students will go to when they are in crisis or in academic trouble. These administrators are on the front line, playing a vital role in the lives of our students," Ms. Cerny said.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Provide training and mentoring for academic administrators so they can function at an increased skill level and provide consistent service to all faculty and students
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Review and revise academic administrator job descriptions, titles and compensation
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Encourage the career development of academic administrators and their involvement in professional organizations so they remain fresh and innovative in their roles
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Appoint a special assistant to the Provost to initiate, coordinate and oversee the training and development of academic administrators to ensure consistent student service, parity of workload and compensation across departments.
CULTURE OF OVERWORK
Throughout the Institute, a culture of "busyness" is apparent. A feeling permeates the Institute that if faculty staff and students are not working long hours all the time, we are not working hard enough.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Review and revise work processes within each academic department, taking into account seasonality of work and the skills of individuals so that work can be divided equitably among staff
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Reorganize staff into teams, where appropriate, so seasonal work and special projects can be shared among staff.
COLLABORATION AND PARTNERSHIP
Academic administrators, students and faculty all report feelings of isolation and disassociation with other colleagues within the Institute.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Improve communications among students, faculty and staff at the department and Institute level so that all are aware of other people's roles and responsibilities and the interconnections
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Provide spaces (offices, study areas, etc.) conducive to interactions between faculty, students and staff so that natural relationships can form and evolve
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Include academic administrators on department and Institute committees so they may share their knowledge and perspectives on policies and procedures they will ultimately support and enforce.
Faculty and staff need more continually updated, easily accessible information to support their commitment to quality education and advising of students.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Enhance our current technology to allow departments to download and modify information from the Registrar's database so that departments will no longer have to hand-enter the same information into their own databases.
The AANet team was formed in June 1996 as part of the Financial and Academic Services Transition effort of Student Services Reengineering. Team members included several academic administrators, representatives from the central services offices, and an MIT student.
The team presented its findings and recommendations to the Reengineering Steering Committee, Academic Council, Provost Joel Moses, and Deans Rosalind Williams, Ike Colbert and Kip Hodges. The Provost and these deans have encouraged the team to proceed with implementing the recommendations.
The team also has shared its complete report with department heads, undergraduate and graduate academic administrators, staff in the central service offices, faculty undergraduate and graduate officers, administrative officers in academic departments, and faculty on Institute committees whose work relates to students. Others in the community who would like to read the entire report may contact Ms. Cerny at x8-7232 or firstname.lastname@example.org>.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 19, 1997.