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Administrative Communications and Culture Working Group


The working group on communications and culture met almost weekly through the summer and beginning of the fall term. In addition to our own deliberations, the group met with President Wright, senior officers, fiscal officers, and some department heads including the directors of computing and public affairs. In addition, the committee held five public meetings that attracted more than 150 people and received a large number of emails with suggestions on how we might meet our charge.

The committee reviewed the results of the staff survey offered to all employees in the spring of 2006. The survey had a 56 percent response rate and while 89 percent of those responding stated that they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their jobs at Dartmouth and 93 percent responded that they would recommend Dartmouth as a good place to work, the survey also found some frustrations with the operations of the administration. In particular, the survey found that many employees would like to see more opportunities for advancement, greater transparency around decision-making, and more willingness to embrace change.

The committee heard similar concerns at the open meetings that it held. The following statement was typical of the many comments and emails that we received:

It's my sense that people at all levels are looking for congruence between things they hear about and things they actually experience. They are also looking for consistency from one area of campus to another as well as between levels within any organization. It's also my sense that supervisors, managers, and administrators are looking around them for clues about how to conduct their affairs. But what any two persons see (or bring with them, or research on their own) may be quite different, and these differences may present something of a "mosaic of management" at Dartmouth. Sometimes difference has advantage; often it can be confusing or counterproductive.

Recurrent themes from these meetings included:

  • The need to identify mission and institutional values
  • A desire for more information about priorities and decisions
  • Greater and more frequent communication
  • The need to foster a culture of respect and civility
  • More opportunities for professional development, growth, and advancement
  • The need to embrace change more readily

Because of the increasing demands and pace of work, the ways in which we communicate with each other, and the increased specialization of our responsibilities across campus, there is a general sense that the campus has become increasingly divided into “silos” with individual offices, departments, and divisions feeling less connected to the mission, values, and priorities of the College. The meetings reinforced the message we received from the president: that while many things were working well, the administration needed to find ways to encourage greater cooperation and integration across the institution toward our shared responsibility of supporting the academic mission of Dartmouth.

When pushed to describe the ideal administrative culture, committee members described a community of learners that:

  • Fosters a spirit of innovation, open debate, and institutional responsibility;
  • Communicates clearly priorities, decisions, and organizational structure;
  • Is accessible; and that
  • Values all members of the community.

While this might be the ideal, the committee members also recognized that different areas of the College could meet this ideal in different ways. Thus, the committee does not advocate a rigid adherence to one approach. Individual managers and vice presidents need the flexibility to establish the appropriate culture for their areas. But this flexibility does not eliminate the need to work within an institutional culture that encourages collaboration, open communication, and transparency of decision-making.

The need for a shared sense of institutional responsibility by employees and managers, more effective communication, and enhanced professional development opportunities for staff at all levels are consistent themes through all our recommendations.

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Last updated: 01/31/07