I was wondering if anyone had any guidance on how to handle/manage the uneven skill sets and lack of customer service attitudes on the part of administrative units. I'm talking about concrete issues, such as a person in the grants office who can't figure out research budgets and grants.gov and IT staff who can't keep email up and running. Keep in mind, these are folks who are not directly under the supervision of my department, but who we are compelled to use.

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    Sometimes it can help to go over their head and let someone above them know that there is a problem. At my institution we were having some issues with our bookstore. A colleague ran into the university's CFO at a university reception and happened to mention the issue, and miraculously the bookstore became much more responsive. Sep 6, 2014 at 18:52
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    I think it's relevant to this board because the HR and power structure in a university is quite distinct from is found in a typical large business. Sep 6, 2014 at 22:40
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    @strongbad: I think it is an appropriate question, and that answers could propose concrete approaches for dealing with such problems. I think it would help to edit to focus less on your complaints (which after all are specific to you, and tend toward the "ranting" tone that tends to annoy people) and more on your search for solutions. I agree that they may well be academia-specific. Sep 7, 2014 at 1:43
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    You might also shy away from the word "incompetence" (both in this post and your own efforts) - it's pretty harsh, whether or not it's warranted. Sep 7, 2014 at 1:45
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    I will watch this closely as I, too, face such a problem. Smart Boards don't work; door locks won't lock, and when they do, they won't unlock, etc.
    – Bob Brown
    Sep 8, 2014 at 0:15

1 Answer 1


There are many excellent, competent, and dedicated staff and administrative people at universities, but there are also a visible percentage who are not. Universities face several hiring challenges:

1) Salaries are low and opportunities for advancement are rare. Talented people could make more in industry. Those that remain are sometimes there because they don't have mobility (because of a faculty-spouse ties them to that location, etc.).

2) many people are hired for reasons not related to their skill sets: second-body problems, hiring recently graduated students to reduce the appearance of post-graduate unemployment, etc.

There is no easy solution to this problem. However, even second-body hires are not resistant to getting fired (or worse, transferred to the dining unit). Like all bureaucrats they are afraid of complaints and the additional paperwork this would cause. Anonymous complaints can usually be made via the university ombudsman (if you have one).

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    While I agree with your comments I am not sure this actually answers the question that was asked. Is your answer along the lines of "the problem is never going away so just get used to it?" Sep 7, 2014 at 23:57
  • In order to solve something, you have to know the root cause of it. The root cause of variations in staff competency is that not all of them are hired, retained, and promoted according to market forces. Thus there is no easy solution -- so yes, get used to it. :-) However, that being said, even second-body hires are not invulnerable and pressure from above can be useful per Nate Eldredge's comment.
    – RoboKaren
    Sep 8, 2014 at 1:00

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