Letter to the Editor | Some questions (provocations) for the AUA

Development Monthly | #7 March 2022 | Letter to the Editor | Some questions (provocations) for the AUA

Jonathan Dempsey

Assistant Registrar,
New College of the Humanities

To The Editor,

We seem to now be living in a time of great reflection, with the past 2 years giving us (maybe too much sometimes) to reflect on ourselves personally and professionally and with the upcoming AUA Annual conference being titled ‘What now? Shaping our future’ it may be a pertinent time to reflect on the organisation that we are all a part of the AUA.

Now this letter is not setting out to denigrate or talk down the AUA, in fact I’m involved in many ways as a mentor and on the advisory board for this very publication I’m writing to, however I want to provoke a conversation about who we are as an organisation.

So, the first topic I want to discuss is the very name of the organisation, the AUA or it’s full title the Association of University Administrators. I have highlighted the last word of the title, administrators, as personally I dislike it.

It doesn’t represent who I am as a professional. This is not to say that those with ‘administrator’ as part of their job title is not professional it is just that I don’t see how it represents all areas of higher education we work in.

We are registrars, officers, managers, developers, marketers, advisors. The list goes on and is one I’m not even sure I could capture fully. Lumping us all in as one job title feels somewhat demeaning and doesn’t set us up to gain the respect of colleagues within HE and those looking in from the outside.

In fact the term administrator (when speaking of us as a group) ranks almost as highly on my list of vitriol as the term ‘non-academic’. We as a group of professionals are a lot more than what we are not. We are the third leg of the milking stool that is higher education. Take us away, in the same way as you could take away students or academic colleagues, and things would just fall down.

So, my first topic of discussion/provocation to ask you the editor and those reading. Should we remain being named the Association of University Administrators? Or should we have a new name that reflects who we are? Maybe the Association of University Professionals? Or, somewhat facetiously, the Association of People Who Aren’t Academics but Know Their Sh*T and Get Stuff Done. Yes, the last one wouldn’t have a great acronym, but it does say, I think, who we are and what we do.

Now I don’t think the AUA will rebrand, that would no doubt cost too much, but what do others think? What moniker would appropriately let others know who we are as a professional group? Answers on a postcard please.

Now to my second topic of discussion/provocation. This again asks who we are as an organisation. However, this time I want to ask what it is we stand for. Are we just an organisation about professional development and career progression? Or do we, as a collective, stand for something more? Do we speak out enough about the world around us, at the very least in the context of HE?

I’m going to flat out say no!

Now to caveat my thoughts before I go on.

I am a white cis-gendered hetero male.

This undoubtedly tinges everything that I consider from a base perspective of privilege, and I don’t think for a second that I can give much of an opinion of the barriers faced by others.

However, that is exacerbated by the fact I have, other than through conversations with colleagues, no idea of the experiences of those “othered” by the systems within which we work, nor do I believe those groups should be the ones having to yet again “tell their story” or lead on inclusivity initiatives etc.… because they are the ones who should have been included already.

I firmly believe that the AUA needs to get up on its parapet and highlight the issues our members whether that be on race, gender, sexuality or any other number of ways we as a society like to put people into a nice, neat box that is easy for others to “understand”.

For example, we know that in academia there is a dearth of female professors. With their only being 28% of females in the professoriate and when you account for race that drops dramatically with there only being about 35 black female professors out 22000 professors in total. However, what is the story when it comes to professional members of staff? How many in senior roles are female? How many are Black or Asian?

I have no idea!

Maybe someone out there does, but shouldn’t this be something the AUA is talking about? Or asking its membership as to understand the makeup of our profession?

If we can’t quantify who we are how can we begin to have conversations about the changes that may need to take place to ensure we are an organisation who represents each individual not just on their job title alone but as a person with many facets that make up who they are?

Is the AUA, and maybe all of us a collective, just too passive? That’s at least how I experience things and maybe that says more about me and this letter is my own provocation to stand up more and shout to highlight the inequalities in the system. I know I need to do better at that.

So, I would like to ask should the AUA be taking more stands? Should they be looking at the state of our professional services nation to understand what is happening? The barriers people are facing in their career? Should they have given out a statement denouncing the invasion of Ukraine?

I know I might be getting up on my soapbox right now, but I think to answer my own questions they should all be a resounding yes!

So, editor and fellow professionals in higher education, what do you think? Am I way off the point in my provocations? Or have I not gone far enough? I would love to hear what others think either in reply to this letter or via social media (you can find me on twitter – @jd_in_he and LinkedIn – linkedin.com/in/jonathanadempsey).

Jonathan (he/him)

Join the discussion @The_AUA #Develop or scroll to the bottom for comments

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