PhD Candidate
Rhetorics, Communication,
and Information Design

Clemson University

Organizational Philosophy

An effective organizer, leader or administrator in higher education does not necessarily possess the same qualities as an effective manager or business leader, nor should they; a department, program or school is a much different creature than a small business or corporation, and should operate because of these differences rather than despite them. It is true that there are principles that might apply to business and university service alike, and many of those outlined here could very easily find a home in the mission statement of any number of corporations. This is, at heart, largely undeniable.

Still, principles tend to act as generalizations at best, and grossly abused overgeneralizations more often; we must be careful in their application to the goals, structure, values, and culture of any organization. Just as I teach students to think carefully about an audience before attempting to persuade it, so to must we think carefully about the institution in question when attempting to apply our principles. As such, a "general" statement of principles like this has its limitations, and certainly cannot be applied across the board; worse still, divorced from the quirks of any specific organization, such principles become little more than platitudes. Putting a premium on transparency in an organization dedicated to military intelligence is obviously not going to cut it, and valuing profit over the well-being of students and faculty is equally absurd.

That said: those principles that a person chooses to emphasize can still say a lot, and that is why I am listing them here: not because they are universal to every situation, but because they provide insight as to what I may value, and why. These are of course contingent on both the position and the organization, and deserve to be taken un grano salis. Those principles are:


An effective organizer or leader should be an advocate for the organization she represents as well as the rights, interests, and well-being of the people affected by her position, in the organization or outside of it. Obviously, this would involve a department or program, faculty, and students—but this also includes the community, local culture, and increasingly, thanks to our global interconnectivity, the world at large. A leader in higher education is not a CEO, whose primary concern is profit; she is ultimately responsible and accountable for people she serves, and the preservation, founding, or improvement of the institution that serves them.


It should go without saying that a successful organizer depends far more on collaborating with the members of an organization to accomplish goals rather than act on executive orders. While I will concede that sometimes the latter is necessary, as well as reprimand (which you will find conspicuously absent from these principles, aside from its mention here), much more can be accomplished by solving a problem as a team. This does require a well-structured organizational system, but that should be taken as a given—without it, nothing will happen but by the grace of fortune.

Research & Teaching

I think an effective organizer should understand the practice and aims of an organization's members, and in the case of academia that will inevitably revolve around matters of teaching and research. Money is, of course, an important factor here, especially when organizations are left with a deficit or must find money on their own; but the bottom line should not be the driving force behind its administration. In cases where this has happened in higher education, it has almost without failure been disastrous for faculty, students, and the education system overall. To be clear: budgets and funding is important. But what we do, ultimately, is research and teach, and an organizer should not only let that happen, but increase its magnitude. Money can help with that, but it is not always the central concern.


A leader should not hide crucial information from the rest of the organization, even when it could possibly cause unrest. This does require a bit of nuance, of course: timing, or Kairos, is an important part of the rhetorical equation. But an effective leader is not a ruler, nor are they (usually) the keepers of military secrets; one should be open and honest about the affairs of an organization to its members most of all, and of course to higher-level administrators. Without open communication between the leaders of an organization and everyone else, the organization becomes a business, and the leaders become a managerial class with interests contrary, if not hostile, to the interests of those they serve.


On the flip-side of openness is listening: genuinely considering ideas, criticism, and opinions from others, even those outside of the organization. An organization cannot be effective without its leadership always listening—such action would be contrary to the defining principle of an organization in the first place. While there is sometimes a need for an authoritarian approach—in matters of life and death, perhaps—that is rarely the case education or the production of knowledge. Without listening, there is no learning; and without learning, we are without purpose.


Fairness and impartiality are important for an organization not merely for the sake of its own operation, but because these are just principles that any sustainable collective action requires. An organization is an institution (after some sustained existence) and its members; too often, we forsake the latter for the former. Without some sense of fair treatment, members have no desire to be actively committed to the organization—and why would they, if it is not committed to them? Likewise, impartial favor of one member over another can quickly lead to disillusionment for the majority. But this isn't just a principle for organizational cohesion and efficiency; it is fundamentally a moral principle, and applies to any form of communication or collectivity.


Following from the previous point: we should all care—about the organization, about the members, and about the welfare of those people and things we affect. Most ethical systems deny moral patience to inanimate objects, but I'm not so sure this works as intended: all things, animate and inanimate alike, probably deserve and require or moral consideration. This isn't merely about sacred objects, though they might easily prove the point: relics of various religious groups have been painstakingly cared for over centuries, often more carefully than people. Certain businesses, like breweries and bakeries, have cared for a certain strain of yeast for as long as they have existed, and at least on the surface, politicians care for the inanimate and ostensibly democratic character of American traditions and institutions (I make no claim here as to whether it is, in fact, democratic).

As such, any leader of an organization should care for the organization's welfare, but far more deserves consideration than that: the environment (used here in the ecological sense), computer equipment, a pencil—and yes, the very real and animate people who constitute an organization, as well as those outside of it. Our splitting of the animate and inanimate in terms of moral consideration, I think, has led, among other reasons, to the grave abuses and throw-away culture we see today. We should care for each other, and for the world in which we find ourselves; and I believe that those who lead and direct organizations need to be the first to do so.


Lastly, I think transparency is a worthy principle, though it has been dragged through the mud by entities like WikiLeaks. Openness, covered above, is part of this—but it isn't the whole story. An organization, and by proxy its leaders, should aim to not only communicate accurately and honestly, but also make this publicly available—and disclose the why as much as the how. This involves a lot of soul-searching, as anyone who has spent enough time questioning their own behavior knows: there isn't always a clear answer to the question of why, and when there is an answer it's often devastatingly unflattering and in need of change. Nobody likes this process, but in the name of transparency—and transformation—it is necessary for both individuals and organizations alike. And of course, this doesn't apply to all organizations, and possibly not all people: we don't want our own soldiers second-guessing themselves, but we do want enemy combatants to do so (I don't mean soldiers of a national army here, though it can be read this way and still apply). We don't want our own secrets shared, but we love to hear the secrets of others. But case in point: maybe we should question this, and communicate why we feel and act this way, as painful as it might be. That, to me, is transparency.

Again: these are not universals, and because of the nature of this medium (the web), I cannot apply them to a specific position or audience. But they are principles that I value, in administration as well as in my teaching and research.