managing through June 4, 2018

“Spider-Man Principle” and the “Categorical Imperative”: How to Address the Problem of “Managing Through”


“Managing through” is the administrative practice of passing difficult decisions on to a higher level of the organization in order to avoid the consequences of having made an unpopular choice. For instance, a department chair may receive a request from a faculty member that the institutional cap on travel funding be waived in his or her case. If the chair believes that this exemption is unnecessary or inappropriate but that refusing it would cause negative repercussions, the chair might practice managing through by approving the request and hoping that it will be turned down by the dean or provost. The chair may be afraid of receiving a poor evaluation from the faculty member that year or may simply wish to avoid the unpleasantness of multiple appeals and claims that “you’re just not our advocate.” The dean is then placed in the difficult position of either overturning the chair’s decision or managing through again by passing the request on to the provost or president. In a truly egregious instance of this practice, the chair may even call the dean to say something like, “I just wanted you to know that I’ve sent on that travel request we spoke about the other day. I’m not going to be offended at all if you deny it. In fact, that’s what I’m hoping you’ll do.” The result is that the administration ends up playing a form of “good cop/bad cop” rather than deciding each issue on its own merits.