The Role of Academic Staff

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The Role of Academic Staff

Project Leads

Marc A. VanOverbeke (BIO)

Assistant Professor, Northern Illinois University
Foundations of Education
Faculty Affiliate, WISCAPE

Kathleen Elliott

Project Assistant, WISCAPE
University of Wisconsin-Madison


Academic staff are a significant part of the modern research university, and it is essential that deans and college presidents understand the role of academic staff if they wish to run a university effectively. Yet research on the role and influence of these members of the university community is sparse. Researchers most often choose to look at changes in academic governance, structure, and climate from the point of view of the faculty. Through meetings with academic staff on campus and with representatives from other Big 10 universities, WISCAPE established a research agenda to address this gap in literature.

The first phase of this study was completed under the direction of former WISCAPE Project Assistant Marc VanOverbeke. VanOverbeke, now assistant professor of foundations of education at Northern Illinois University, looked closely at University of Wisconsin staff since the turn of the twentieth century through the review of historical documents and analysis of a large database containing information on staff numbers, employment categories, work responsibilities, and salaries since 1977. This research has formed the basis of presentations at the annual Academic Staff Institute in 2003 and 2004.

In Spring 2006, WISCAPE Project Assistant Kathleen Elliott built upon WISCAPE’s historical analysis by conducting qualitative interviews with 11 academic staff members in a wide variety of positions in the UW–Madison School of Education. Elliott’s study was designed to find out how academic staff on this campus experience and think about their roles at a large research university, paying particular attention to their career paths, self perceptions, how they feel their roles have changed over time, and how they would like to see their roles change. Through these interviews, WISCAPE has identified recurring themes and issues that could be used to guide the design of a larger study.
Elliott presented the results of her study at the Academic Staff Institute in April 2006, soliciting feedback from the participants on issues they think should be addressed in a larger study and how the results of such a study could be used.  The suggestions and comments from participants were recorded for future use.

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