I’m a new hire at an R1 university in the United States. My position focuses on the administration of research. Before coming here, I worked in private industry and government agencies – but this is my first time working within a university setting.

Here it is common for many management functions to be staffed by faculty members (either current faculty, or people who held faculty positions before moving to administrative roles).

This has become difficult, as I’ve come to understand that many of peers don’t have any background in the areas they are expected to be successful at. For example, academic department chairs are responsible for the financial management of their department, but most of the ones I have met with aren’t currently capable of reading basic financial statements. Similarly, they may be in charge of large and costly projects, but have no established project management structure.

These lead to poor outcomes (departments that spend far more than they should, projects that run over time and over budget, etc.). I can’t understand why they would be placed in these positions where it is clear they don’t have the skills to succeed.

In the management of an American university, why would academics be placed these kinds of roles rather than professionals with those skill-sets?

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