Institutional pride

Sep 30 2014 Published by under [Et Al], [Life Trajectories]

Last night I asked a question on twitter about whether PIs felt some specific allegiance to their institution and I got some interesting responses. My thought was simply that many of us may feel ties to our department or even one's specific college, but I was trying to get at what it takes to extend that feeling to the institution as a whole?

Does it matter if you're at a university, national lab, medical center, museum or other?

Does it have to do with whether you did your undergraduate or grad degree there?

Do those working at elite universities take more pride in their affiliation, and thus feel an allegiance to their place of employment?

In my particular case, I see the university as the overall body that allows me to do what I like to do, but I don't feel any particular need to fly it's colors or celebrate the institution. I like our geographic area. I DO have strong feelings about my department, our majors and faculty. I do feel a strong tie to our college administration, who have been exceptionally supportive. As a result I do the general PR stuff that we are asked to do for student recruitment, etc. Outside of that?

But I certainly see examples out there of faculty who embrace the university in a broader way, such as @LSU_FISH. So I'm curious in what circumstances do people buy into the institution, as an entity?

29 responses so far

  • dr24hours says:

    I work at a hospital which is well-known, ivy-league affiliated, and considered highly prestigious. And yes, that makes me feel good. I feel good that an institution of this quality is interested in me, and that inspires me to give my best to the institution in return.

    It's also nakedly self-serving. I believe that AEs and SROs are consciously or subconsciously biased in favor of my work because I submit from a well-known and highly prestigious institution.

    And I don't buy in to the idea that prestige is all a house of cards. Sure, it can be a monster that feeds on itself, but it can also help ensure, when done well and assiduously maintained, that you get great people doing great work, and produce important results.

  • dr24hours says:

    Please note that that in no way suggests that people at smaller or less-well-known institutions are not doing great work and producing important results.

  • I'm not exactly sure why I've always felt such pride towards my overall institutions but I have. I hadn't really noticed before to be honest. Perhaps because of where I grew up, in Queens, NY - where you have an affiliation to your neighborhood, your sports team, your graffiti click, your HS, it was how we identified ourselves. We introduced ourselves with name, high school, neighborhood, etc. Perhaps in such a big impersonal city we needed to quickly find out the details of the new person we were meeting without the extra details of their actual personality.

    As an undergraduate I would say I went to McGill, Macdonald Campus, Zoology Major; I was a University of Michigan grad student and an American Museum of Natural History postdoc. As a professor at LSU I can say in all honesty I feel a great deal of pride being part of a group of scholars and students at this institution.

    I of course feel thankful to my department - particularly the Museum of Natural Science and Biological Sciences - but I root for the entire team too, the team being the entire school. I want us all to be the best. Perhaps I'm just an overly enthusiastic optimist.

    I hope that explains at least my pride for the overall institution but I fear it is unsatisfactory an answer. I suppose I grew up learning institutional pride as a kid, and you either have it or you don't as an adult. Of course it also helps to be happy to be where you are. I wouldn't feel institutional pride were I unhappy.

    My institutional pride makes me feel like a member of a bigger community than myself. If I just had pride for my department, I wouldn't know as many people in the bigger LSU community. I have a hard time imagining separating my pride for my department from the larger university community.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Prosanta, I'm in no way saying you're doing it wrong. I think it's great that people connect with certain communities. I'm simply curious why some people might feel that connection whereas others don't. I'm sure it's as much personality as anything else.

  • eeke says:

    I've been at a number of universities and I find that I pick and choose specific things to take pride in, rather than the institution as a whole. For example, I worked at what was considered a "mediocre" level university. But I really liked the fact that the students accepted into the program had average or below average test scores (MCAT), and those that graduated invariably had test scores above the national average. I liked to think that indicates something about the quality of teaching.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I'm the "if you show love for me, maybe I'll show love for you" type when it comes to institutional pride.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Playing hard to get, eh? What's love anyway? Resources, money, space? Do those come from the institution or more locally? Here much of that is meted out closer to home than the provost's office.

  • drugmonkey says:

    All of the above, ProfLikeSubst. Also "not fucking with me and my research program". That's a biggie.

  • ecologist says:

    I feel a sense of identification, support, and pride in my university* because ... well, because it's a freakin' university, that's why. Universities (in all their sizes and shapes) are part of one of the greatest developments in human history. That mission is far bigger than any one institution. Universities deserve support, far more than they get from our culture, for what they have contributed, and continue to contribute to human welfare. All this whining about resources, money, fucking with my research program, and so on misses a much bigger point.

    All that said, of course there are things about my university that I don't like, that I don't approve of, that I wish I could change, that I complain about. But I do not confuse the question of whether I feel pride in it with the question of whether I think it's perfect.

    *It's actually been, over the years, several universities and a research institution, but the statement applies to all, and is easier to write in the singular.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    So... simply working at a place with an education mandate means you should be on the front lines of the PR team? I'm not sure I follow.

  • bashir says:

    I'm open to the idea, but I can't say I feel it strongly yet. If anything I still feel my old college connection more so. That connection has the nostalgia. Here my relationship with institution is different. I see how the sausage is made. I'm sure it's no worse than my college was, but I just didn't see it when a student.

  • I am super-duper proud of my current institution. I think amazing things happen here and most people are spectacular, and I this sounds dopey, but I believe in the mission.

    But HECK DARN NO I'm not going to show the institution any pride or love in a public venue (aside from this comment I guess) because they haven't earned it from me. Whenever they've had the opportunity to make a choice about how much to invest in me and my students, they opt for the the lower, and more often the nil, quantity. For months now, I've embargoed information from the campus PR office. I don't want my name or face to be on the website anymore, until they show (me with $) that they support what happens in my lab.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    And herein lies the disconnect for many: what happens AT the university vs. how the university administration makes decisions. While connected, they can be very different things.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    And Terry, I really do love your run of pseudo-profanity. Made my day.

  • Chris Cramer says:

    I would say that institutional pride comes when one feels that the values (and actions) of an institution align with one's own. And, when one speaks of the values of "an institution" those will be values articulated by that institution's leadership (again, as further judged by actions/policies/outcomes). So, a key factor in institutional pride, I would say, is a leadership that attempts to engage widely with members of the institution (faculty, staff, students, for a Uni) and that does indeed reflect, or instill, community values. At a HUGE institution (e.g., mine), that can be a tough job, as there is such a wide RANGE of values, and they sometimes compete for resources.

    As noted above, when it comes to faculty -- at least at research-intensive institutions, there is something of a Catch-22 when it comes to institutional pride. Most schools very deliberately insulate ("protect") junior faculty from the institution. I.e., they are permitted/told to focus almost all of their efforts on spinning up their research programs, and doing their teaching, so that they will have the highest probability of successfully achieving tenure. Unfortunately, that practice has the side effect that AFTER tenure, those same faculty likely have very little affinity indeed for the institution, beyond their own department, and perhaps a college with whose administration they may occasionally have crossed.

    And, finally, let's face it: academia does not really select for humility, communitarianism, etc. (unless maybe your fields are very different from mine...) I've yet to meet a faculty member who doesn't feel underappreciated/undersupported. That tends to translate into a strong free agent mentality. I'd also offer an old-guy's opinion that there's a bit of a 21st Century tendency to rant about things one doesn't like (insert comment about athletics spending, for example) while perhaps failing adequately to acknowledge/appreciate things that one DOES like (insert comment about tying stadium donations to undergraduate financial aid, for example), assuming that somehow all good stuff just happens by default while all bad stuff was someone's nefarious intent (gets more clicks, that whole evildoing spin).

    I'd say that the message for administrators who want to BUILD institutional loyalty (I'm 50:50 admin/faculty, so I can pontificate from both sides!) is that the most effective means is to emphasize communication and service-leadership. The institution must be directly represented to, and interact with, the individual. That can be hard, since the personal touch is time consuming, but there's not really any substitute.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Chris,
    Thanks for the thoughtful response. Its always interesting to get the top(ish) down perspective. I would add that this career is fairly nomadic in its formative years. I know that I never got too invested in my grad or postdoc institutions because I was just passing through. As new faculty, you are basically told to plug away and the dept will keep the admin off your back, more or less.

    It shouldn't be any surprise, then, that recently tenured faculty haven't spent much time RA-RAing for the institution. For many of us, we have to make tough choices with how our time is spent anyway, and the incentive to plug into the uni PR is not particularly high.

  • Pascale says:

    I'm now at my 3rd institution as a full-fledged faculty member. As time goes on, I have become less enthused simply because I realize that I am unlikely to be a permanent presence anywhere. Now I make sure that my efforts support my own brand, not just that of my university or medical center. When push comes to shove, I know approximately how much expense and effort a place will exert to keep me. They are worth no more than that on my part.

  • Milo Blew says:

    My lack of identification with my college comes from the fact I'm state school born and bred teaching at a small, religious affiliated liberal arts college. I am proud of the work I've done with my students, and know that I've an impact in their lives, but I can't shake the feeling that I'm causing a number of them to go into debt for an education potentially inferior to one they could get at the MRU in the middle of the state or at a branch campus. Add to that a new guard that keeps pushing good people out of leadership roles because they aren't churchy enough, and I'm done.

    My institution had the opportunity to support me last year, but overrode the wishes of the department and blew it in a monumental way. I'm now in Terry's shoes. I mentioned to Dr. B last night that there are 2 or 3 things that I should mention to PR, but I won't because they serve me just fine on my CV and I don't want to give my college the good PR.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Let's see....

    as junior faculty the meme is "work as hard as you possibly to get even a sniff at getting tenure".

    after that "where's my overheads? what have you done for me lately?".

    then "You want better treatment or a raise? come back with an external job offer that is better and we'll talk".

    Really is a puzzler why more academics don't feel affection for their Uni, isn't it?

  • Chris Cramer says:

    Pascale, without wishing to sound critical, were a Dean/Provost/President/Chancellor/etc. to say, "When push comes to shove, I know approximately how much expense and effort a place will exert to keep me. They are worth no more than that on my part." I suspect that they would be ROUNDLY criticized -- including by faculty -- for that sentiment of "me first, everything else second". There is some irony that faculty demand in their administrators sacrifices that they themselves may not be willing to make...

    I note, of course, that there IS no lack of administrators who put their own interests ahead of those of their units/institutions. I think THAT is a sad situation, too, but perhaps it reflects the prevailing outlook of the population from which administrators are drawn.

  • Annon says:

    I worshiped the undergrad institution I attended - it was my life long dream to go there. Then, while attending, I found that it was an incredibly sexist institution and particularly as a women in science, I was treated with no respect and endured open and blatant sexism by many faculty (all were male). I utterly lost all respect for that institution and still find it difficult to say positive things about it.

    I then went to grad school, and again tried to/wanted to embrace the institution. There, most unfortunately, I faced sexual harassment by my advisor.

    I survived, graduated and was hired for my first tenure track job, where I was sexually harassed by a colleague in my department.

    I found another tenure track job and fled that place. Things got better - or more like, they were not as bad as what I had already experienced. But as a woman I was and still am disenfranchised. I'm now a full professor and very successful, arguably the most successful in my department, but the overwhelming sexism on this campus is exhausting. I have to be at least twice as good as the men around me to get anything - equal research space, equal teaching schedules, etc. I feel absolutely no respect for my institution and in fact I refuse to become an administrator, because to do that I feel you must care about the institution you work for - otherwise how can you put in so many hours?

    I think one of my most disappointing discoveries about this profession - at least in all the places I've worked - is that we are not working as a team to better our institution or our department. Instead there are enough people who are so selfish that all that matters to them is their research, and they will not give and take and work together with their colleagues to build something better. There are also bullies who are busy tearing others down. Academia also does not have the safe guards in place for many really atrocious behaviors - behaviors that would be stopped, and the perpetrators punished, in industry or government jobs.

    I work hard for my students, and I try to make a difference in their lives. I work on my research because it is intellectually stimulating. Otherwise I have absolutely no respect for my institution, and for most of my colleagues. I don't leave because experience has taught me that it is no different anywhere else.

  • Cynric says:

    I'd say I have affection for the cultural memory of my institution as a community of scholars, and I like all that the social conception of a university should encompass.

    But on a day to day basis, the ever increasing workload, deprofessionalisation, management by committee, and devaluation of salaries and pensions makes me really quite bitter.

  • Anon in Central PA says:

    I work at Penn State, so ... about 3 years ago it became REALLY hard to have pride in the institution as a whole. Obviously my teaching and research aren't affected, but my attachment to the university as a whole? Took a hit, for sure.

  • e-pock says:

    I feel pride/loyalty toward my undergrad institution, which was a giant land grant university that also has top notch medical & research centers in diverse disciplines/fields of science & arts. Toward my current institution, I secretly think it's 2nd rate despite its reputation (and I wonder how I ended up here). I think it puts on bread & circuses for the undergrads who overpay to be here (in an over priced and stupidly crowded location). The grad students get a good deal, though. The faculty are divided between the TT and nonTT appointees and I'm half expecting a Marxist revolution. The administration, despite the bajillion senior assistant vice provost of chancelling jobs that seem to exist, gets things done competently and quickly whenever I need something (as long as it doesn't involve spending money) and the facilities are generally very good (but not great, I've seen better when I visit industry facilities). I'm trying my damnedest to feel some love for my department, but it's hard because my compensation package tells me it doesn't love me back.

  • Annon2 says:

    Like Annon, I had a crazy insane bullying experience. At my current institution. Still get an upset stomach when I think of it (and when this person's name comes up or when I see this person). Because of barriers to research independence (...bootstraps, I know) and getting separate lab space (preferably in a different building), I am still in the clutches of this bully. So it's hard to be proud of this institute that has kept / supports known bullies and incompetents.

  • girlparts says:

    I think Chris hit the nail on the head. I take pride in being part of a team mission - to be great educators, or great scientists, or provide great care (in the case of a medical school). It seems increasingly as if Universities, as institutions, could care less about any of this. Everything is about the bottom line, or rankings. My beloved undergraduate institution, which always referred to themselves as the "University X Family", now requires me to spend more than $1000 to participate in a reunion weekend. Some family. Perhaps I'm just getting older, but my rah-rah school spirit has been mostly replaced by cynicism.

  • poke says:

    As others have noted above, it's hard for me to feel too positive or supportive about the University as a general entity, because the tenure process (and many things since then, for the record) set up such an antagonistic, "prove your worth" kind of relationship.

    However, faculty and students (from my department and others that I've interacted with) are a different matter, and I have only positive feelings about the vast majority of those folks. I'm absolutely proud to work with my colleagues.

    Sometimes I really feel as though it's faculty/students vs. "the university," which is a sort of faceless, bureaucratic, soul-crushing monster. I certainly feel like whatever I'm achieving is in spite of, rather than because of "the university," which makes their requests to do dog and pony show activities all the more nauseating...

  • Travis Collins says:

    It's okay to take pride with your universities or institutions as long as you learned something and gained much knowledge with these organizations, but if you're just bragging because you attend different affiliations because of the universities and don't have nothing to brag about with your skills then you don't have the right to have pride. For me, it's the abilities and skills that matter, regardless of what school you came from or if your undergraduate. Remember Steve Jobs founder of Apple computers was an undergraduate of physics, literature, and poetry, at Reed College, Oregon.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    Reed College is one of the most elite selective liberal arts colleges in the nation.

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