Talking it out in higher education
Former University of Massachusetts Lowell administrators Kristin G. Esterberg and John Wooding know their way around a classroom. They each spent years on faculty before taking leadership positions.
Frustrated with the distorted perceptions on both sides of the faculty-administration divide, the pair embarked on an ambitious study. Esterberg and Wooding conducted extensive interviews on eight public university campuses.
The result — “Divided Conversations: Identities, Leadership and Change in Public Higher Education” — will be released this week by Vanderbilt University Press.
“The deepest identifications that faculty tend to have is with their disciplines,” Esterberg says. “It can be hard to see the university as a whole, yet we have to develop a curriculum that is campus-wide,” she says.
“Administrators often spend a lot of time dealing with a few of the most difficult faculty issues. They can get very focused on those problems and not notice the positive work the faculty is doing as a whole.”
With dwindling public dollars, the authors found a growing pique in arguments between faculty and leadership. Esterberg says they also looked for shared goals such as the desire for state-funded public education.
“Whether they know it or not, faculty and administrators are both deeply concerned about the students, but we’re going to have to start traveling across this border if we’re going to serve them.”
Kristen G. Esterberg earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Cornell University. She is currently the provost of Salem State University.