Will posits the trouble of being middle management, beholden to company superiors and policy and yet also expected to interface with lower level employees and try to work out their concerns to keep the office running smoothly.

The contents of this post also tangentially relate to the Department I Don’t Work For.

I’m in a semi-middle management (in that I can reassign work to “level 1” and that more and more of my job responsibility is not taking care of every little thing myself, but seeing that whoever I assigned it to gets it done while I work on the Big Things) role now, and moving up shortly to what I will consider a fully middle-management position. My responsibilities have changed from “grunt work” to the occasional small thing (when we’re short staffed) with the rest of my time occupied by keeping abreast of policy issues, changes being done from above, and the ongoing changes in technology so that when people under my pay grade get confused, I can give them the info/training necessary to get their jobs done.

Part of this role, given that it’s at Southern Tech University, involves interfacing with the various faculty/staff and trying to meet their “needs” (or desires) while staying within policy. Only, since it is a government institution, we have the following policies we have to keep abreast of:
– Federal regulations (safety, security, privacy)
– State regulations (safety, security, privacy, information retention)
– Systemwide regulations
– College-level regulations
– Our own department mandate (we have a very specific charter on what we are allowed to spend money on, tied directly to the fact that it has to be either for student use or for educational in-classroom use, and other departments are always trying to find “loopholes” to get into our money).

Where this gets even hairier is that we are in the unenviable position of trying to enforce these regulations on tenured faculty. The thing to remember about tenured faculty is that they are (a) at least 80% completely technologically inept and (b) used to constantly getting their way from students and grad assistants, and even from the College itself if they happen to bring in a particularly large grant and can threaten to take it to another institution.

For many of our discussions, we are (for better or worse) stuck in between a fast-moving object (the faculty) and an immovable object (the various regulations). Faculty that are used to getting the rules ‘bent’ for them on things like the spending of grant money or the deadlines for various applications come to us wanting things changed “just for them.” Things like password reset deadlines or complexity requirements, alterations to the email server so that their Blackberry can function (Blackberry’s server-side software, alas, tries to auto-install a rather insecure MS-SQL setup and eats up a ton of resources), or more unusual requests that often involve a fundamental inability of the faculty member to understand the limitations of technology. Quite often, we are stuck in a situation where we are the bearer of bad news (“I’m sorry, but what you are asking for cannot be done under Regulation X.Y.Z”) or else we are caught between someone asking for something and forced to tell them no on the grounds that (a) it is technologically impossible, (b) it is cost-prohibitive, or (c) it would require the purchase of X and it does not fit within our purview to make that purchase for the intended use.

Some days, they even come back and try to make threats and trouble with us for bringing the response back about regulations.

I doubt most middle-management deals with that; I imagine that most of the time “or I quit” is about the extent of the major threat, unless employees have access to sensitive information or their loss would seriously impact a project in some way. I don’t know that it the IT-side question 100% matches the “middle management” question, but it is always interesting (and sometimes quite frustrating) being the go-between.

Category: Office, Server Room

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One Response to The Odd Middle Man

  1. ecco says:

    As an academic refugee, I sympathize with your having to put up with the whims of tenured professors. Maybe others have contrary examples, but academia seems unique in some ways with the amount of hazing that professors can direct at support staff without any repercussions. It must be quite the skill to diplomatically say no through all the abuse.

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