A Creature of Our Own Making

Reflections on Contemporary Academic Life

By Gary A. Olson

Subjects: Higher Education, Education Policy And Leadership, Educational Administration
Paperback : 9781438445786, 207 pages, January 2013
Hardcover : 9781438445779, 207 pages, January 2013

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Table of contents

1. Campus Culture
What Conspiracy?
Avoiding Academe’s Ax Murderers
How to Get What You Want in Academe
That’s Your Opinion
Holding Ourselves Accountable
If Universities Were Democracies
Creating a Culture of Respect
A Culture of Openness
To Party, or Not to Party
Yes, Big Brother Is Watching
2. The Craft of Administration
How to Join the Dark Side
The Importance of Protocol
The Administrator as Magician
The Burden of Confidentiality
Avoiding the Hunker-Down Strategy
Resist the Rush to Judgment in Disputes
Why Rules Matter
We Can’t Do That Here
The Delicate Art of Rejection
Let’s Just Do Our Jobs
The Cost of Doing Business
The Unkindest Cut of All
If Only I Knew Then…
3. Campus Reform
Carnegie Matters
Growing Pains
Why Universities Specialize
Why Universities Reorganize
The Importance of External Boards
Certifying Online Research
Why Universities Are Streamlining Their Curricula
Should We Ditch Football?
How Note to Reform Humanities Scholarship
4. Faculty Concerns
The Limits of Academic Freedom
Exactly What Is “Shared Governance”?
When to Dissolve a Faculty Senate
It Is Who You Know, And Who Knows You
Creating a Culture of Recognition
How We Value Faculty Work
We Really Like You
A Creature of Our Own Making
How Not to Measure Faculty Productivity
Fight Your Own Battles
How to Run a Meeting
5. Faculty Recruitment
Don’t Just Search, Recruit
Why Settle for Second Best?
The Proper Way to Court
But She Was Our Top Choice
The Academic Job Search and the Internet
I’m Your Millstone
6. Special Topics
Commencement Matters
Can You Spare A Dime?
The Ethics of Technology
E-mails Are Forever
Keeping Your Emeriti Close
What Deans Expect of Department Heads
How Not to Evaluate Your Department Head
Investigate Me, Please
Safety First

Witty, savvy, incisive, and entertaining short essays on the culture, mores, and practices of higher education.


Drawing on more than three decades of experience as a scholar, teacher, and administrator, Gary A. Olson, a keen observer of higher education and a monthly columnist for the Chronicle of Higher Education, explores the intricacies of life in academe. These meditations, which appeared as columns in the Chronicle over a six-year span, explore a rich tapestry of subjects from the craft of academic administration to how institutions are reforming their operations. Also included are topics germane to faculty and their work, such as how to network within your discipline, how to report faculty accomplishments accurately, how to navigate the tenure and promotion system, and how to create a culture of recognition and reward for faculty, staff, and students.

Many academics become preoccupied with the intricacies of their own disciplines and are not always cognizant of how other parts of their institutions work. Most go through their careers with an incomplete (and in some cases completely wrong) understanding of many aspects of academic life. Olson's essays shed light on the complex workings of our academic institutions and provide answers to important questions about the modern university: What are the limits of academic freedom? Exactly what is "shared governance?" Why are many universities reorganizing their academic units? What are successful ways to recruit first-rate faculty and staff? Witty, incisive, and entertaining, this book is for anyone interested in academic life and a must read for new professors and new administrators.

Gary A. Olson is Professor of English at Idaho State University. He is the editor and author of many books, including The Future of Higher Education: Perspectives from America's Academic Leaders (coedited with John W. Presley).


"…a reflective guide to assist individuals who are contemplating an administrative role … current and future leaders may be well served to understand what to expect; how to prepare; when to act; who to know; why it's not about pay; and how to avoid common administrative challenges." — Journal of Higher Education

"A Creature of Our Own Making is a much recommended addition to educational studies collections." — Midwest Book Review