The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “5 Big Secrets Your Staff Wishes You Knew”. Click. The essay is aimed at professors, and I am sure that many of us professors want to learn things that will help us interact better with staff. This is one of the useful things about the Chronicle — it provides information from the point of view of all sorts of academic citizens at all sorts of institutions, so we can better understand each other. OK, so what are The Big 5? I must say that I found them disappointing, even as I appreciate the main point of the essay: be respectful. It’s sad (and cynical) to call this a secret, but it is good to be reminded anyway. It is something that we probably all forget more than we should. 1. Don’t call them secretaries. The author of the essay is an academic program specialist. Most of us have administrative assistants in our department offices.
Many have bachelor’s degrees; some have more advanced degrees. OK. Most of the professors I know don’t use the word “secretary” anymore, but I can believe the word is still used now and then. If you treat your staff members as mere secretaries, they’ll probably act like mere secretaries. You won’t get much constructive work out of them. But if you treat them like professionals, you might be surprised at how helpful they become. Why assume that the people (most of them women) who are or were known as secretaries are/were not competent professionals with many or all of the same skills as the modern administrative assistant? Is the author (a man) referring to stereotypes of female secretaries? Is that why he used the word mere? And I didn’t understand the point about level of education in the context of level of respect. Surely the author is not saying that we should respect someone with a bachelor’s degree more than someone without? The hint of retribution if we don’t get the title right is also a bit disturbing.
I have taught classes in which some of the students didn’t know I was a tenured professor. On coming to my office hours, some expressed amazement that I had my own office, considering that they thought I was an adjunct. I say contingent faculty?), I was not offended that they didn’t get my title or tenure status right. Should I have become less constructive and helpful with these students? I can’t imagine doing so. 2. Staff have deadlines too. This is a good reminder for us all. We all have deadlines, and we should all be considerate when we need something done now(ish). I think many of us can relate to this. 4. Staff don’t always think in the abstract. This one surprised me the most because I wondered: and professors do? This is where I scrolled down to see where the author works; in what kind of department do the professors always think in the abstract? The author is in a college of medicine. It is strange to assume that faculty wander around thinking in the abstract all day. Many of us spend our days teaching and dealing with research management issues (grants management, keeping track of our advisees, writing reports, filling out forms that keep changing.. I wish I had more time for abstract thinking. 5. Staff are people too. I’m sorry that anyone would consider this a secret, but again, I can appreciate that the point is worth making. This ‘secret’ seems particularly aimed at a certain species of condescending professor. Apparently, “The professorial supremacy complex inflicts far too many in your ranks”. I am sure this is true, and for anyone who has to deal with those of us who think or act this way, surely even one is too many. I understand why the author felt compelled to write this essay. Several times I have been abruptly handed pieces of paper and told to give this to So-and-So.
If you take the list of the new players Google is in the anomaly in that it is the only one that has and is making real money. The way media is delivered, the way we consume media has changed. It was not that long ago the majority of content was created by professionals and published professionals, content was exclusive. Content is no longer exclusively the domain of the professionals. Barriers have been removed. Professionals still create and publish, but so do the rest of us. The quality has dropped, the form has simply changed Content created and pushed our eyes and ears. A newspaper, magazine, television program, website, everything used to be pushed and we consumed. Content is no longer pushed, today it is increasingly pulled. Digital technologies have changed the rules. We consume increasing volume of content in flashes; Words come in 140 characters, broadcasts in one and half minute. Content used to be based on structure and format. Words came in paragraphs, broadcasts came in programs.