Field of Science

Herding Cats

“Like cats, professors tend to be highly intelligent, deeply self-actualized, and fiercely independent. They need to be stroked occasionally, but only on their own terms and in their own good time.” (R. Jenkins, CHE, 4-16-10) And of course everyone at one time or another, particularly if they hang around college and university administrators, will have heard that getting faculty to do something is like “herding cats”. What I particularly like about Jenkins’ essay is his answer, “What’s wrong with that?”
Not all administrators think cats need to be herded, but my experiences with chairs, deans, provosts, and presidents (quite a number have come and gone during my decades in higher education) puts the ratio pretty close to 50:50. Rather than trying to “herd”, some actually try to “lead”, and some even have a goal in mind. And no question about it, the “I’m a cat” attitude of faculty drives those administrators who regard us as merely employees quite mad. We ask why and want data or studies that back up the positions and policies being proffered, and if you present analyses quite contrary to these, it is treated as an act of insubordination rather than an exercise in critical thinking and evaluation. You’d think they’d be pleased with my interest. The Phactor is not a contrarian, but my knack for finding a flaw in a plan has not necessarily always been greeted with enthusiasm. It took years of nominating one of these herdsmen for other jobs before some suckers took him off our hands, but others have just been more ambitious, and as they have moved on to bigger and better jobs, perhaps the Phactor has taken too much delight in seeing so many exemplify the Peter Principle. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to curl up with some research and purr.

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