Irreverent Thoughts on Grant-Writing Relationships
This article, by
Seymour Lesh, was written for the community college level. Many of you at
the K-12 level will, however, probably relate to many of Sy's thoughts!
Irreverent Thoughts on Grant-Writing Relationships in Community Colleges:
Things They Never Taught You
Machiavelli, You Were Right!
Most programs and workshops aimed at
training people to become grants developers/writers, ignore several
significant aspects of this initiative, namely, the internal and external
politics involved in the process. In grantsmanship workshops and training
programs, a potential grants writer either is presumed to know what the
political situation is on his/her campus or the topic is deemed too
institution-specific to warrant discussion. In a few instances, mostly
when a person has been working in an institution and is promoted (or
demoted) to grants writer, he/she knows what the internal politics are.
But for most new grants writers, they may be stepping on land mines they
didn't know existed. That is, despite excellent training and preparation,
a knowledge of funding sources, a high level of writing ability, and
strict adherence to the work ethic, he/she may fail because of a lack of
sophistication about the unwritten rules and ambiguous relationships
within their organizations.
This paper addresses some of these
potential pitfalls. It is based upon the personal experiences of the
author and the opinions of other grants people he has talked with; it does
not purport to be based upon objective research, and should not be
considered as the final word on the subject.
The relationships between grant writers
and academic administrators, between grant writers and faculty, and
between grant writers and staff, are tenuous at best, and much like the
weather in Montana, if you hang around a few minutes, it will change.
This paper will focus on faculty and
administrators, since staff members, who often make salaries below the
poverty level, have good and sufficient reasons for being antagonistic
I propose five tenets that seem to be
universally prevalent, some examples of how they are manifested, and some
indications of how one may deal with them.
Tenet 1: All college
personnel do not have the same commitment to fostering the college's
This is important for a grant writer to
understand especially when you try to convey the idea in proposals that
everyone on campus is pulling together and going in the same direction.
For example, administration calls for a new beginning, a new direction, a
new long-range plan. Committees are formed and faculty and staff are
recruited to serve on them - this is known as participatory democracy (by
administrators), and is thought to be the solution to eliminating the
seemingly endless negative feelings of faculty and staff toward
Faculty, while usually attending these
meetings and participating in the writing of recommendations, nevertheless
feel that the recommendations will never be implemented and that this is
merely another administrative ploy to get them to do things they don't
want to do - work longer hours, teach more students, get less money, feed
into the pet projects of administrators, etc. Faculty's complaints are
then registered with the union representative who will bring a grievance
against the school.
Administrators, on the other hand, feel
that faculty are taking advantage of their benevolence, that they don't
show their appreciation for everything that administrators have done for
them. So there develops a "We'll show them!" attitude on the
part of administrators, and everything that faculty members propose
thenceforth is summarily turned down, no matter how innocuous, and
administrators do what they had always wanted to do anyway.
Staff, who, as noted above, are grossly
underpaid, resent the time off, salaries and other perks of both faculty
The issue sometimes becomes one of
"turf," i.e., "What do I have to give up and what will I
get in return?" "Is it worth it to me?" "How will it
affect me in the future?" "Farnsworth just got a new Pentium,
when do I get mine?" etc.
A grants writer must recognize these
positions and not assume that faculty will work in harmony with staff or
administrators and vice versa. Tread softly and carry a big eraser.
The 25% Rule
There is a rule of thumb that I
developed to describe what really happens on campuses:
- 25% of the people on campus do all of the work. This
figure may go down (I've seen campuses where only 10% do all of the
work), but it will never go up.
- 25% don't do anything. They have a knack of seeming
busy and involved but they never turn out any work. If you press them
on it, they get angry and tend to threaten you.
- 25% do the work, but do it too late.
- 25% do the work, but get it wrong.
Tenet 2: There is a pervasive
and permanent state of hostility between faculty and administration which
has existed long before the grants writer came aboard and which will
probably continue long after he/she leaves.
Faculty and administrators have co-existed
in a permanent state of distrust for so long that it has become second
nature for one group to distrust the intent of the other. It is manifested
in a "them vs us," "management vs worker" position
which is only reconciled on issues which are basically unimportant or
which do not impinge on one or the other's turf. It is often difficult to
get faculty interested enough in a project to sit down with you to write a
grant proposal, but they will turn out en masse and full of intense
passion to defeat a proposal put forth by administration.
Issues such as release time, new offices,
larger class size, quality of students, etc., become stumbling blocks and
tend to polarize faculty and administration. A grant writer must
understand that these issues exist and find a way around them without
making enemies of one side or the other.
This could be tricky, and the grant writer
risks getting called "wishy-washy" and afraid to take a stand,
e.g., "If your not with me you're against me!" A friendly
relationship with the faculty union rep and with each department and
curriculum chair can go a long way toward alleviating potential troubling
situations. A little subtle bribery can also alleviate potential stumbling
Tenet 3: Many college
administrators are lazy.
There is a school of thought among
administrators that posits the view that the problem will go away or
someone else will handle it if you don't do anything. This is often a
(surprisingly) correct position, however, it doesn't help the grant writer
who is seeking funds to deal with the problem.
Try to get an administrator to fill out a
form, read an important document, meet a deadline, get a price on an item,
give you some data they already have on hand, etc. "It's not my
job!" "I don't fill out those forms!" "I don't have
enough time!" "You want me to take work home?" These are
some of the answers you get, although top-level administrators are more
likely to comply than lower-level administrators since these activities
are usually part of their jobs.
An administrator may say to you, "I
can't approve this training proposal because there is no space available
for the training!" And you ask (yourself) "But isn't it your job
to find appropriate space for new programs?"
Or the head of a unit (Student Aid,
Admissions, Registrar, Student Health, Purchasing, etc.) keeps your memo
asking for information on his/her desk for more than a month until you
have to go there in person to ask for it. Then this conversation may
You: "Why didn't you send me back that form? I told you I needed it
two weeks ago."
Unit Head: "I've been too busy. I'll get to it right away."
You: "Too busy? You only have to fill out your name and address and
Unit Head: "What's the big rush, anyway?"
A veteran grant writer needing a form
filled out will hand carry it to the designated form filler-outer and
stand in front of his/her desk until it is filled out. When they say
"Leave it here I'll get to it soon," warning bells should go off
in your head and you say to yourself "Not on your life!" And you
say to the subject "I can't, the messenger is waiting outside to take
it to Washington!"
Tenet 4: Some faculty
members hate each other. Some administrators hate each other. Some faculty
members hate administrators. Some administrators hate faculty members. A
veritable love-in of hate.
In these circumstances, a grant writer must
know which people on campus not to invite to the same meeting. Sometimes
this is not possible and then the grant writer will have to play mediator
and peace-maker, not roles for which we were trained.
A grant writer, while not responsible for
the antagonism, must take on the onus of responsibility as if he/she was
responsible. In the right situation, losing your temper and yelling at
everyone sometimes shocks them and brings them to their senses. At other
times you may be able to play one off against another to get what you want
(study your Machiavelli).
Tenet 5: Secret deals
are made (among administrators, among faculty, and between faculty and
administrators), that have a direct impact on what a grant writer can do.
This is an area where subtle bribery often
takes place. "If you do (something), I will see that you get
(something)." Unaware of these deals, the grant writer is astonished
at the amount of seemingly unfounded negative feelings there exists toward
The only way around this particular issue
is to make your own secret deals, do your own bribery, e.g., "I will
write in funds for a computer for you if you agree to support the
proposal." Or "I'll get you two release time courses instead of
one if you agree to direct the proposed project." Not subtle, but
effective. What really works is if you can legitimately get them more
money; they will follow you to hell if you can.
As an aside on the bribery issue, I get a
lot of free supplies and equipment from various sources. I stock up on
some items that I can use throughout the year, e.g., office supplies. I
make sure that lower-level staff (hidden away in closets and alcoves on
campus) get first crack at these items - I make many friends this way
because usually no one gives them anything or even knows they are there -
and yet they often control the flow of paperwork. I can call in favors,
e.g., "Look, Margaret, I need your boss to fill out this form right
away, will you get him to do it?" "Sure, no problem. Oh, by the
way, when are the new pens coming in?"
Several other tenets and ideas have just
popped into my mind, but I'm afraid I'm getting carried away, and will
stop now before real damage is done.