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October 26, 2000


University Senate Matters

Nathan Hershey

At both the Faculty Assembly and Senate Council meetings this month, I mentioned that some subjects that were to come before, or had recently come before, Faculty Assembly and Senate Council had been prompted by communications received from faculty, including several expressing concern about the performance of some University function. I said that I welcome such communications, and I went further, saying that members of the University community should not be reluctant to bring apparent problems to the attention of the University administration directly so that it can respond to them, if they truly exist.

At the Senate Council meeting one faculty member referred to himself as a "squeaky wheel," having raised problems with the operation of CourseInfo at the Faculty Assembly meeting at which an administrator was present. He remarked that the next day he found that CourseInfo functioned considerably better. He said that the "squeaky wheel" had been "oiled." Provost Maher responded that, while there had been some almost immediate improvement because of some changes made, the basic difficulties with CourseInfo's functioning were far from being fully resolved.

There should be no reservations on the part of faculty and other members of the University community about being "squeaky wheels." By describing a problem in a public forum, or by communicating about it with an administrator who possesses responsibilities in the particular area, the "squeaky wheel" is performing a desirable, if not essential, function in our large, bureaucratic organization. In many circumstances, the only method by which individuals with administrative responsibility can learn that something is amiss is from complaints. Therefore, those who encounter problems in performing their duties because of deficiencies in the way that some part of the University support structure is functioning should inform those with administrative responsibility for the personnel and/or equipment apparently responsible for the problems. Whether the problem is one in a highly professional or technical area, such as the operation of the computer system, or the basic maintenance task of replacing burned-out light bulbs in classrooms, the individual affected should contact the responsible administrator. Moaning about the problem to colleagues doesn't address the problem; the sooner the individual responsible for the function not being performed is notified, the greater the likelihood that the problem will be addressed, and eliminated.

It is also worth discussing what the response of administrators should be when problems in their areas are brought to their attention. I know that I am not alone in having encountered hostile responses when making the existence of problems known. Some in management view the making of a complaint as constituting a problem for them, rather than the failure of them or their subordinates to properly perform the function that has precipitated the complaint as the problem upon which to focus. As I see it, the role of those in University management, responsible for providing services and support to faculty and other members of the University community through the personnel and equipment assigned to their responsibility areas, is to view those they serve as consumers. Effective functioning of personnel and equipment within their responsibility areas is necessary for the successful performance by those dependent on their services. Consumers certainly should feel free to express their views about the quality of services they receive, and are entitled to prompt and courteous responses.

My thinking along this line brought me to the question of whether, if at all, the senior University administrators solicit the views of the consumers of the services provided: facilities maintenance, campus security, food services, and in the areas closely related to instruction and research, such as computer and library facilities and services. Consumers may be inclined to praise as well as criticize, if their opinions are sought. For example, I recently received very useful assistance from a Hillman librarian. I probably was remiss in not promptly sending some communication to Rush Miller, stating my great satisfaction with the assistance rendered to me. I encourage others in the University community, when they have been the recipients of excellent service, or have seen excellent performance by an individual, to make note of that in some way, so that the employee's supervisor will be aware of that employee's level of performance.

I opened by talking about the "squeaky wheel" and the attention that a "squeaky wheel" may receive in order to improve a University function. I think it is equally important that excellent performance should also get attention. Those who benefit from excellent performance by others should give serious consideration to providing positive reinforcement.


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