Roles: What are they and who decides?

What does it mean to be an administrator? A faculty member? A staff person? Are there themes to the roles played and the job done by members of each group? Are the roles well-defined? Faculty have “The Agreement.” Probably classified staff and administrators have similar types of documents. Do those documents clarify our roles? I’m thinking that in moments of conflict, we use those documents to make a decision. I’ve never read our agreement start to end. Mostly it’s a resource for me when a particular question comes up: “I’m going to a funeral and have to miss class; what do I need to do?” I don’t think that valued resource really provides a vision for my role in the college. Is it meant to? Does anyone think that it does?

I was 20 when I first started dating my husband. It was in interacting with his family that I became aware of many of my own assumptions. They were good people, but their roles, their rules, their habits were so different from those of my own family. Through years of conversations and actions, we came to know each other. And that process made me recognize that we experience every situation through the lens of our own assumptions, the net sum of all of our experiences to date. So what happens when 20 or 50 individuals work together in a department? Through years of conversations and actions, we come to know each other. And when we feel like we know each other and we feel like we each have a role that is understood and generally appreciated, then we can function well as a system.

A colleague recently observed that short-comings in a system end up costing the users time, energy, and morale. And as we put our collective attention towards Equity in Education, it is not much of a leap to conclude that short-comings in how we function as a college will disproportionately impact the poor, especially if they have to work while they’re going to school or if they are first-generation to college students. On the other hand, if we function well together, the benefits extend to EVERY student and also to ourselves.

So here are my numerous questions: Beyond the work that I do in my classroom, what is my role in our college? What is the role of various staff people? What is the role of a dean? What is the role of a Vice President? What is the role of the President? Who decides what our college-wide vision is going to be? How do we get buy-in for that vision? How do we talk about and share that vision in a way that makes us more likely to experience success in realizing it? How do we learn what the functioning parts of our system are? How do we connect system-wide to integrate the subsystems? And how do we improve how we function, as a SYSTEM? So many questions… Can you point me in a useful direction? Or share what you know?


5 thoughts on “Roles: What are they and who decides?

  1. Your ponderings are very sociological– thanks! Roles are social expectations, but what you point to is something we call “Role Ambiguity,” in which the expectations are not quite clear. Formally, our roles are actually not that much, as shown in all the governing documents. Many of us could get by on working 26 hours a week and fulfill our duties. HOWEVER, the informal roles are also demanding, and this is where it gets sketchy. Are are expected to do my than “The Agreement” and Title V dictate, such as participate in professional development, serve on committees, and do the shared governance thing. How much? Or what, specifically? And how do we avoid something called “role strain,” in which the demands of the particular role are too much, or “role conflict,” in which what’s expected of us is at heads with one another (for example, do you serve on the committee or go to your child’s soccer game?). The role ambiguity is good in some ways because it allows for a bunch of creativity, room for growth, autonomy, and freedom (which are among the reasons I chose this career).

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  2. Your comments about learning to understand your husband’s family reminds me of an interview I heard on NPR last weekend. The interview was of a journalist named Scott Carrier, who was explaining why it is that he doesn’t get upset by some of the bigoted comments he heard from some Donald Trump reporters he had interviewed. Carrier said, “There are lots of different ways of seeing the world besides our own… different cosmologies of ways to explain where we come from, why we are here and where we are going, and people with different cosmologies have trouble communicating even when they are using the same words, because to them the words have different meanings..” I think that is so true! If we all could keep that in mind a bit more (democrats and republicans, faculty and administrators), I think we would all be better for it.


  3. So many good questions. So many roles to play. Some we are born with. Most we are conditioned into. I suppose we learn them because of a need to belong, even if we don’t know exactly what it is that calls us to belong. We need connections and affirmations and comrades and antipodes. Vision and purpose? No one sees the clouds in the same way as they gather and depart. How can we see the subtleties that bind us together and tear us apart? Somehow we create patterns in our minds and patterns in our speech and patterns in our actions. And we give the patterns names and we invite others to join the patterns even if we don’t know how to capture them like a still-life of clouds on canvas–and who would really want to? Somehow it’s a mystery and will always be a mystery, and who doesn’t love a mystery?


    1. Your words remind me that there is a certain beauty in the complexity of life. I do believe that each time I classify or categorize anything, it is by 1 characteristic or dimension. A prism refracts the light, separating it into the colors of the rainbow. I sometimes feel like roles do something similar with our human essence.


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