The Joy (?) of Administration in Academia

Didaktikos Collage

by Mark Strauss | Bethel Seminary

This is the last of five articles addressing the multiple hats we as professors wear, including research and writing, teaching, mentoring students, ministry in the church, and administrative roles. My goal throughout this series has been to celebrate the different roles of professors and perhaps to stretch you a bit in areas you may not consider your strengths.

I have to admit, though, that I put this one off until the end because administration is my least favorite part of my job. There are many things I love about being a professor: I love the dynamic classroom experience, seeing the lightbulbs go on as my students begin to grasp a difficult concept. I love introducing them to new ideas and challenging them to think in creative ways. I love doing research and writing articles and books. I love taking complex ideas and finding fresh ways to present them so that the average person can understand. I even like grading (well-written) papers. But administration seems to me a distraction from these things and a drain on my time. 

I have colleagues who love administration (and are very good at it). They love arranging and organizing meetings, sending out invites on Google calendar, developing and working with committees, putting together a well-organized agenda, and preparing concise and accurate minutes summarizing the results. They love brainstorming and planning sessions, and they find great joy when a committee reaches consensus. They like working with budgets and get excited about charts and spreadsheets. 

None of these things excites me very much. While I enjoy the camaraderie and social interaction of being with my colleagues, I dread the hours administration takes away from “more important” work. Some years ago a colleague sent around an article that was a kind of protest against the many meetings and committee assignments of academic life. It described the difference between “managers” (administrators) and “creators” (teachers, writers, and researchers). While managers can work in small pockets of time, creators need extended times of focused, thoughtful work. While meetings scheduled for 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. are fine for a manager, they can completely sabotage a creator’s workday.

While this tension is real, I have to repent of my aversion for administration and acknowledge its critical importance for the future of the academy. Theological education is changing today at a blinding pace. New technologies and informational resources are appearing daily. Online education is skyrocketing in popularity, and face-to-face classrooms and physical campuses are in decline (witness, for example, Fuller Seminary’s closure of most of its sites).

In this brave new world there needs to be a close and constructive partnership between creators and managers, between those who are the guardians of the theological curriculum and those who manage its customers (students) and delivery systems. I’m preaching to myself when I say that we as academics need to embrace and invest ourselves in administrative roles that will help guide our theological institutions toward educational models that are both transformational and economically accessible for our students.

Mark L. Strauss’s writing and research focuses on the Gospels, hermeneutics, and Bible translation.

This article was originally published in Didaktikos: Journal of Theological Education, and is slightly edited from its original version. Educators can sign up for a free print (USA) or digital (worldwide) subscription here.
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Didaktikos is a vocational journal for professors who teach in biblical studies, theology, and related disciplines—particularly at the graduate level and in service to the church. Didaktikos is published four times a year.

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