Monday, August 15, 2011

Administration 101

A middle level administrator I know was faced with a dilemma.  The person had agreed to make a program recommendation and immediately after sending the very strong recommendation began to have serious reservations about the program.  To some extent these reservations were the result of information that became available subsequent to the recommendation being sent.  And to some extent the reservations were the result of a more careful look by the administrator at the program being recommended.  The end result was a 180 degree change from recommend to really can’t recommend.

But what does the middle level administrator do at that point?  One possible response is to go back to the program developers and indicate that given this and that, the administrator can no longer support going forward.  Another related possibility is that the administrator withdraws the positive recommendation.  If one or both of these courses of action are your responses, you get Administration 101 advanced standing credit. However, what if this is not the response? What if instead the response is to contact the person the administrator reports to, and ask that person to turn down the recommendation?  In that way, the administrator could go back to the program developer and indicate with sincerity that it was a higher-up that deserves the blame since the administrator had made a positive recommendation.  With this scenario, what if the higher up refused to play this role?

Are there other alternatives?  The administrator could write a detailed memo to the higher up indicating the flaws in the original recommendation and once again indicate that the higher up should turn down the recommendation.  Why not at this point just rescind the original recommendation?  The explanation could be that the administrator is still not comfortable saying to the program developers that the original positive recommendation was flawed and should be withdrawn.  Once again, what if the higher up refused to play the role of nay sayer?  What if the higher up very clearly indicated to the administrator that if there are such serious doubts the recommender should contact the program developers, explain the reassessment, and withdraw the recommendation?

One resulting possibility is that the administrator emails the program developers directly, spelling out in detail the concerns about the program.  It should and could be a well thought out email. The conclusion, at this point, might go in one of two ways, with one punch line being that for the reasons noted above, the University had decided not to go forward.  The other alternative would be for the administrator to state that it is he or she that is withdrawing the recommendation.

There are clearly moments in time when a recommendation looks sound initially and subsequently turns out to be very flawed.  I think we are all aware of such situations. Absent extenuating circumstances, my Administration 101 advice is that the recommender should just go back to all involved and indicate that given all the information now available, that he or she can no longer make a positive recommendation.  Think about it. Asking someone else to do your work or suggesting that someone else has made your decision, serves no purpose and more than likely is counterproductive to long term administrative advancement.

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