Academic Gerrymandering; the Redistricting of Academic Work for Managerial Benefit

[We’re pleased to welcome author, Dr. Kathy Lund Dean of Gustavus Adolphus College. She recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Academic Gerrymandering? Expansion and Expressions of Academic Work” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Dean reflects on this article:]

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I am thrilled that “Academic gerrymandering? Expansion and expressions of academic work” will be published and hope it spurs conversations within the vision of the Generative Curiosity section. The article explores how traditional professors’ jobs are blurring the bright lines between faculty and administrative work. The main concept and title of the article mirror my dismay over the U.S. Supreme Court-level conflicts about electoral district gerrymandering, or how political parties remake electoral district boundaries for their own gains, circumventing fair election processes and citizen voice in favor of getting their candidate into office.

“Blended’ academic roles, or, new faculty roles that combine traditional faculty work with administrative responsibilities, are increasingly common. While some faculty are jobcrafting their work into blended roles—re-defining work responsibilities and creating customized jobs that speak to strengths, interests, passions, and desires to learn new things—others are living out blended roles that are demotivating and draining. In my article, I model how blended academic roles might be experienced—a range from liberating and energizing to exploitative and dispiriting. Where these new work roles fall in the model depends on two factors: faculty agency, or, whether faculty retain real power in selecting work parameters, and institutional instrumentality, or, whether institutions direct faculty energy toward their own agendas and goals. “Academic gerrymandering” is my biggest worry for this new form of work; gerrymandering occurs when institutions actively “redistrict” faculty roles, moving administrative responsibilities that it needs accomplished into a faculty role without commensurately removing other responsibilities, and/or circumventing that faculty member’s needs or input.

The good news is that blended faculty work can be inspiring, challenging, and directed toward learning new skills and testing out new abilities. I call that “positional dexterity,” when faculty have lots of control over their work parameters and the institution helps that faculty member be successful. My inspiration for writing the article came from living out my own blended faculty role, complete with its agency struggles, ambiguous boundaries, political challenges, as well as its opportunity, creativity and energy. I was also inspired to explore these new roles by observing colleagues in blended roles whose experiences have not been positive, and whose institutions have been, in my opinion, quite opportunistic in how administrative work is being parsed out and completed.

I recommend that faculty be alert to how their jobs are changing, and how jobcrafted work can result in synergy between faculty and administrative responsibilities when voice and agency are retained. Taking ownership over job boundaries can mean the difference between gerrymandered work roles and joyful, innovative ones. In my experience, there are many other responses to administrative ‘demands’ than simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and faculty may be in a unique position to partner with administration and find roles that fuse both institutional needs with faculty interests. What’s clear, however, is that the need to consider job ‘districting’ in new ways is getting much more important than ever before.

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