Campus Status, Administrative Assistants, and Meeting Scheduling

Nobody gets a PhD with the goal of spending most days in meetings. The higher up that you go in higher ed administration, however, the more time you spend in meetings.

If you are a dean, director, VP, or chief something, then the odds are that your daily calendar is full of back-to-back meetings.

I know that this is true, as I spend a considerable amount of my time trying to get on other peoples calendars.

The calendar system that we use on my campus is Outlook. The divide is that administrative people keep their calendars on Outlook, enabling anyone who wants to set-up a meeting to see free and busy times.

Faculty, by and large, do not run their schedules through Outlook – and the culture is that their time is no visible or transparent.  See A Faculty / Staff Online Calendar Divide?

In theory, running one’s schedule through an online calendaring system would obviate the need for administrative assistants to manage anyone else’s schedule.

In reality, scheduling protocol follows along the lines of administrative status.

Here I use the term ‘administrative status’ with intent. Academic status is derived from one’s standing in the field. It is based on contributions to the discipline. Administrative status follows job title.  The bigger the job in terms of authority and scope, the higher the administrative status.

Folks in big academic administrative jobs – the deans and VPs and chief muckety-mucks – spend most of their days in meetings.

The reasons that senior administrative people often have administrative assistants run their calendars are complex.

In one sense, this is a practical choice.  There are enormous demands on these folks to meet.  If there were no gatekeeping function, then academic leaders could easily spend all their time either planning or attending meetings.

The amount of energy that it takes to manage the logistics of a big campus job is considerable.  Scheduling discussions are difficult, as everyone’s schedule is crazy.  Getting more than three colleagues in the same room at the same time for a non-regularly scheduled meeting is an increasingly difficult task.

It is not a good use of time for the busiest people on campus to arrange, schedule and negotiates their own meetings.

That is all true. But as a sociologist – somewhat of an undercover campus sociologist – I also see status markers everywhere.  The higher the status, the more someone can rely on other people to take care of things.

The way that meetings are arranged both amplified and reinforces the campus status hierarchy.

Nowadays, there are many fewer people occupying the roles of campus administrative assistants than in the past. Desktop computers (and then laptops), word processing, and e-mail mean that department chairs and faculty now do their own administrative work, correspondence, editing, copying, budgeting, etc. etc.

Outside of the highest administrative ranks, academic staff also operate mostly without administrative support.

We should recognize that the administrative logistics of campus work are time-consuming and challenging.  They take energy and skill.  One of the reasons that work has become so all-consuming is that so much energy now goes into managing daily administrative tasks.

The ability of administrative assistants to multi-task and deal with constant interruptions has always amazed me.  They do some of the hardest jobs on any campus.

What sort of access to logistical/administrative assistance do you have?

How much of your days are spent on logistical juggling?

Do you spend your days in meetings?

How do I get on your calendar?

Source :insidehighered