Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Managerial aversions

I'm working on my book this summer, so expect to see a lot of the managerial stuff. Can't help it.

It's intriguing to me that an organization like WPA tends to avoid the word "management" and all its cognates. The preferred term is "administration." In part, this results from historical/institutional legacies: all managers in academe are called administrators. But it's curious how truly offended some in rhet/comp can get when their work is called "managerial." So part of what I've been working on today is trying to understand that, trying to watch the aversion gain momentum historically in the pages of CCC and the WPA journal. And also noticing how the field's understanding that "administration is intellectual work, while management isn't" to some extent reverses how the literature on management formulates the matter. Here's Peter Drucker (gasp!) for instance, writing in the 1970s before, apparently, it was possible to conceive of female managers:

The manager always has to administer. He has to manage and improve what already exists and is already known. But he also has to be an entrepreneur. He has to redirect resources from areas of low or diminishing results to areas of high or increasing results. He has to slough off yesterday and to render obsolete what already exists and is already known. He has to create tomorrow. (45)

Interesting, isn't it, that here the administrative function is a part of management (not the other way around, as in the WPA literature), and that it's really the more conservative task?

Ok, maybe only interesting to me. And maybe I'm being somewhat cryptic. Gotta save something for my book, don't I?


Collin said...

Donna, how much of this has to do with the narrative (one that I associate with Bill Readings) of the rise of an administrative class in the university that supplants professors as the "heroes" of the institution? Maybe this is ground you're already covering, but I wonder if the aversion to "management" is an aversion to the derisive "middle manager," a phrase which is probably too close for our comfort, and much closer to the truth of what we do (who we are?) than it was, say, 50 years ago in the university context.

Ah well. I'm interested, if no one else is...and that reminds me. I need to go and create tomorrow... ;-)


Donna said...

I think you're right on both counts, Collin. I'm bringing the history of the administrative-heavy multiversity into this chapter to give context to the WPA role, and I think you're right that the middle manager thing is too close for comfort. Which is why, I think, it needs to be looked in the face. Thanks for being interested, and hope the tomorrow you created is going well.

Anonymous said...

Blog as much of this as you're willing to, Donna. I'm sure I won't be the only eager reader. I've spent a career primarily as a WPA. I enjoyed the work until my last stint, but even after the first stint, I would have chosen not to do administration/management if someone had been willing to hire me into a straight faculty job, which was not the case. My only marketable capital was as a WPA. Now I'm on the CWPA executive board and enjoying that work, too. It's a valuable organization.

Despite all this, I am very appreciative of the critiques that you and others are offering of academic managerialism, especially as it applies to the figure of the WPA. It's important scholarship that I follow with enthusiasm and that affects my representations of comp/rhet work. Your "Taking Dictation" was on my comp history syllabus until, alas, it was necessarily jettisoned to make room for Nell Irwin Painter's labor history.

All of which is to say, keep on writing and keep on blogging!