Defining Ourselves can be Tricky at Times

Who are you, anyway?

Some of us have well-defined roles in our professional lives. Some of us overlap categories. In any case, we define ourselves at work in many ways.

Sometimes our sense of self is so complicated we have trouble with a simple name and role introduction. When I introduce myself these days, I say “President’s Office” most of the time. Sometimes it’s “Affirmative Action Officer,” depending on the situation. I still think “Economics Department” on most occasions. Often, it’s the first thing out of my mouth and I have to backpedal.

I’ve noticed other people with this problem. When I divided up a group according to faculty/non-faculty, the administrative assistant of one of the deans tried to put the dean in the faculty group. Deans may consider themselves “crossover,” but faculty are quite sure of the camp they’re in! Then there are the faculty with release time for administrative duties. Is Michael Jordan a professor of English or director of undergraduate academic affairs? What about Sue Chaplin, biology faculty and director of faculty development? A department chair has an even rougher situation – managerial role plus current and future faculty responsibilities and position.

Human Resources puts us into broader categories – faculty, exempt staff and nonexempt staff. The exempt/nonexempt distinction is one made by the government. There are very specific guidelines for being nonexempt, aka hourly. When these are met, the university has no choice. A non-exempt staff member is paid on an hourly basis with strict requirements for overtime compensation among other things. Right now, Wal-Mart is subject to legal action for violation of those overtime rules.

But what does exempt/nonexempt mean in the workplace? Often, nonexempt staff must be present nearly 100 percent of the time. These are the faces of the university, critical to our day-by-day and even hour-by-hour functioning. When Chris Igielski is out of the office, there is no political science department in many ways.

Exempt staff, including administrators, are defined more by function with hours present less well defined. Sometimes that will mean Saturday work, sometimes a shorter day. Working from home is also sometimes possible.

Faculty are closer to exempt staff, except for faculty there is always MORE that could be done – a better writing assignment, another research project, another speaker to hear. It’s like the old saying, “Man may work from sun to sun but woman’s work is never done.” This may explain why faculty may complain about another committee meeting or required workshop – it’s time taken away from class preparation or scholarship. Still, the governance work of the University is essential.

Many times the difference in expectations and role may seem unfair. But comparisons should be resisted. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of position.
The important thing is to make sure we always recognize the contribution of each other.