Administrative Harms

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The approaches to teaching and learning explored in these modules are being undertaken with a broader institutional system — the academic behemoth, if you will. This behemoth has layers of administration wherein policies are developed and enacted, and institutional norms are curated and cemented. We need to acknowledge the friction that can exist here due to the divergence of common goals and core ethos between instructor, student, and administration. Power differentials exist, and this can lead to different lenses being used when evaluating teaching and learning initiatives, or when deciding where budget increases and decreases will have an impact. There are several areas where we want to be explicitly aware of potential administrative harms due to this disconnect:

  • Timelines and the rationale for deadlines can be very different between instructors and the administration. When settling deadlines we need to ask ourselves what the rationale is for a given timeframe and inquire as to whether this timeframe will have different impacts on different groups.
  • Checklists and task organizers: the administration might be more likely to adopt checklists and “one and done” approaches.
  • Emphasis on metrics and counting: the administration might have an increased emphasis on metric and counting — sometimes even counting people, such as with representation audits. The administration might also have an increased interest and valuation of quantitative data over qualitative data. We as instructors must remember the value of narrative, context, and personal lived experience.
  • The existence of a policy/statement/standard is meaningless unless there is action to bring it to life.
  • Enforcement of policies needs to be equitable. If a policy is allowed to have exceptions, but those exceptions are not uniformly applied or if only those from the dominant group know to request an exception, then the implementation of the policy has laid the foundation for bias and inequitable treatment of students.
  • Defending “fairness”: the administration will sometimes state, “If we allow it for this student, it isn’t fair to other students as we didn’t allow it for them.” In this context the administration, and sometimes the instructor, is confusing equity for equality. We need to interrogate this label of “fairness” and recognize that fairness isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
  • The administration tends to push the “education as competition” narrative. We can help to shift attention to the notion of education as diversification and collaboration.
  • We as instructors can remind the administration that “leading is learning” and that a core part of learning is listening followed by action.
  • We need to be cognizant of the fact that the administration often has a dependence on solutionism — the idea that the issue can be fixed or solved and checked off a list permanently, rather than understanding it is something that needs to be vigilantly attended to. The process of attention and action will need to change and evolve along with changing contexts and the involvement of different people.


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Learning to be Human Together by Co-designed by Students, Faculty and Staff at OCAD University, Mohawk College, Brock University, Trent University, Nipissing University, University of Windsor, University of Toronto-Mississauga is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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