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Taking a Stand

February 22, 2012

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology

Journalism chairs and directors deal with all manner of problems on an everyday basis, from budget shortfalls to faculty grievances. On the one hand, chairs and directors answer to faculty, arguing on their behalf for more resources and sharing governance for more transparency. On the other, chairs and directors also must answer to deans and provosts who often do not realize that on occasion, their policies may cause more problems than they solve.

Since my last blog post, I have dealt with a few difficult issues that I cannot describe here as they are confidential. Those issues were not clearly right or wrong—such as a case of harassment or plagiarism—but were judgment calls. These are among the toughest that administrators handle on a regular basis. Rationale has to be sound because decisions will be tested.

I can tell you that in resolving these issues—and they are resolved, at least for the moment—I knew from experience that I had to be nimble as each situation developed. That entailed not making a hasty or untimely decision, no matter how tempted, but a series of smaller ones, all the while trying to do the right thing ethically and the legal thing institutionally.

Those matters ended well for individuals and the School.

Today I had to deal with yet another matter, a proposed policy by an upper-level administrator. I disagreed with the policy, knowing it would create yet another series of problems. I and other chairs and directors didn’t have a say in the policy. It just was handed down.

Sometimes those who make policy are farthest from the employees it affects, and this was such a case.

So in a meeting with other administrators and my supervisor, I criticized the policy constructively. I was polite, but pointed. Other chairs and directors were less so, but that was all right. Nobody by my count out of 30 or so assembled at the meeting supported the policy. But only about one third of us spoke up.

Minutes were taken. When an administrative assistant takes minutes, names are taken, too. But I didn’t mind.

The bottom line each day is not your career. It is your conscience. An administrator should end the day with a clear conscience, ready to defend her or his actions to anyone who questions them.

I have done that today.

Reading this blog, you might get the impression that being a journalism administrator is a matter of paperwork, process and procedure. You come in, dispatch memos; reply to emails. Keep appointments and plan meetings.

It is all that, of course. But leading an academic unit is also about taking a stand and knowing when, where and how to do that.

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