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Feb 15, 2021

Administrator as a prophet

Administrators both predict the future and strive to shape it. That’s where our similarity with real prophets end: we experience no divine revelation, no ecstatic exaltation of seeing through the centuries. Instead, imagine different rows of dominoes set to tip from here and now to a point sometime in the few months. The ends of the rows disappear in a fog.

There is no mystery to it, just common-sense knowledge of how the organization’s machinery works and how it does not. It looks like this: students start registering for the Fall in late April. If we do a major revision of it, we need at least 3-4 weeks. If we just need a minor tweak, with codes, it can be done in a week or two. Observe the two different lines of dominoes. If we need an hour break between classes for cleaning, that is a major schedule revision, and we lose a third or more of total classroom space, so we need to keep that 1/3 of all classes online. If we are still at strict 6 feet distance, we must have small groups of students present. If it is more lenient 4 feet, a whole different story. If we ask faculty to rotate students, that is at least 4 different class formats, one of which requires actual training. If we simply schedule smaller sections, that is a lot of money in a shrinking. However, we can probably use the on-time money, but will need to find more instructors, and more rooms for these smaller sections. Again, this is a massive rescheduling effort. Of course, students do not need to know the exact rooms, that could all be done over the summer. Now add such factors as student and faculty preferences, and the county’s unknown health regulations in effect in August. This now looks like a whole field filled with lines of dominoes, going roughly in the same direction, but different in length and shape. Which one do you tip forward? All of these are conditional versions of the future, sort of like in chess, only your opponent is not smart or intentional. It is simply just a bit unpredictable.

The administrative gift of foresight is in guessing which domino clues are feasible, and which will end up in disaster. Some pathways are too complicated, some require too much work, others are too expensive. Some are short and sure, but blunt and will bring more problems than they will solve. The real problem is when we are dealing with unprecedented and can only guess how the gears of the organization will actually turn and how fast. The only way to get better at these forecasts is doing it as a group. The collective knowledge and the ability to predict is almost always better than the individual ability to do the same. Predicting and shaping the near future is a team sport. I am happy to be at a University that clearly understands that.

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