The Things I Don’t Know

Photo by Ann H from Pexels

“#I was today years old when I learned….” Sometimes a hashtag, sometimes a meme, it’s a phrase that identifies something ordinary that surprised the user. Here’s an example I found today. “I was today years old when I learned that it’s called ‘breakfast’ because you are breaking your fast.” (In full disclosure, I figured this one out listening to Sean Connery say the word or I would be right there with this poster.) While writing this, I can’t think of a single example of the many times I look at my husband and say, ‘the things I don’t know’. But there are many and usually I’m saying it about quite mundane and ordinary things that have somehow escaped me.

I needed reminding of this fact today when I read the article below from Inside Higher Education. In the article, titled, “Who and What is ‘the Administration’ at a University”, the author walks through “three sources of information (that) can help determine who holds the authority and responsibility for decision making and what defines the administration at a particular institution: organizational charts, the chain of command and the spheres of decision-making.” I must admit to wondering about the intended audience for the article in this particular news source since it seemed very basic to me. But then I stopped to reconsider my reaction, which is when the hashtag mentioned above became relevant.

I have known all the information in this article for a very long time – because I have been part of ‘the administration’ at one level or another for, literally, decades. I’m supposed to know this stuff. I also know that simply being part of a university for a similar amount of time doesn’t equate to understanding the org chart. I have often wondered why so many faculty don’t seem to know that large universities have counseling centers when most of them earned their terminal degree at a large university. I still wonder,  but I no longer assume this knowledge.

An academic dean once told me something that was blindingly obvious – once he had said it to me. “Most faculty don’t understand about Student Affairs programs and services because most faculty didn’t participate in or use those services when they were students.” It’s true. The students who go on to the complete the Ph.D. are a small percentage of the whole and, for many of them, their form of engagement was in the laboratory or the library rather than student government or even athletic events. Our experiences on our undergraduate campuses often define our understanding of the way campuses work.

One of the pieces of advice I share with new professionals or anyone who tells me they want to make a career in higher education is “be a student of the organization.” Learn the different lines of authority. Find out where policies are located. Read the student newspaper regularly. If the president puts out an email, read it – even if you think nothing in it applies to your job. That’s probably accurate, but it might apply to the next job. It could even apply to one of the students you are working with.

Thanks to “Strengths Quest”, I know one of my top Strengths is Learner which means this comes naturally to me. It’s also true that one of the best ways to be effective in an organization is to take the time to understand how it works, know it inside and out, backwards and forwards. And in complex organizations, there is always something new to learn. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been there, it’s still possible to have a #IwasthismanydaysoldwhenIlearned moment. There are always new people, new programs, new processes.

Once I stopped to think about it, I appreciated the author of the article for not assuming everyone understands how ‘the administration’ works and spending some time explaining part of this university arcana. It’s a good reminder that we ought to be sure we are teaching our colleagues what they need to know to be effective. It’s a good reminder that we all have much to learn and no matter how experienced we are there are still many things we don’t know.

Take care,


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