Thursday, 6 August 2009

University administrators: born or made?

At the Organizations and Markets blog, Nicolai Foss writes,
In “Congratulations or Condolences? The Role of Human Capital in the Cultivation of a University Administrator” (here; scroll down), John McDowell, Larry Singell, and Mark Stater argue that this also holds for universities. They develop and test a probit model of the decision between administration (from dept. head all the way to university pres.) and the pure academic career. The model is conditioned by training, career background, and (juicy!) academic performance. The data are drawn from the American Economic Association directories. Among the findings: economists with doctoral degrees from less prestigious universities are more likely to select into admin. Women and foreigners are less likely to become administrators. The experience level also positively influences the probability of getting into admin.

I am not convinced that the authors truly capture the specialized versus general human capital dimension. Some of their measures (e.g., whether the PhD degree was awarded by a top-35 PhD institution or not) are measures of quality rather than of the degree of specialization (in fact, this may be consistent with the view that many “pure” academics hold of admins!). Nevertheless, definitely worth a read and good ammo for harassing your local dean!
Harassing your Dean? What about your Head of Department?!! Much more fun.

The abstract of the paper reads:
Administrative skill is essential to organizational effectiveness. Yet, few studies examine how human capital investments over a career affect selection into administration. We use panel data for economists to estimate the probability of choosing administration over a pure academic track. The results show that, while research-specific human capital reduces the probability of becoming an administrator, general human capital increases it. There are also inferior administrative opportunities for women that have not improved over time and variation in the role of human capital according to institutional research mission. Thus, our results suggest academic leaders are not merely born, but cultivated through their human capital investments.

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