7 Tips to Write Academic Policies and Procedures

Writing academic policies and procedures is necessary for any functioning higher education provider. Public institutions, especially universities, work under more scrutiny now than ever. With constant examination, prevalence of social media, and the 24-hour news cycle always looking for the next breaking story, university staff and faculty must remain careful. Luckily, administration can help.

Faculty and staff often view policies and procedures as restrictive, sometimes overly so. Policies and procedures can restrict work duties, interaction with students and co-workers, or even guide actions off campus. They serve two important goals, however; protect the institution and protect each employee.

Protection for administration comes from setting clear guidelines that, if violated, place responsibility squarely on individual employees. They also, however, ensure that if the employee follows policy and procedure mandates, they will likely keep themselves from trouble should an incident of some sort occur.

1. Follow the Three Pillars of Excellence

As administrators look to start writing guidelines for policy and procedures, they must remember the three pillars of excellence. Effective policy and procedure writing comes in the context of an institutional culture dedicated to effectiveness. Administrators must work to make sure faculty and staff remain aware of expectations. They must also follow through and hold employees accountable for violations.

Each aspect of the three pillars of excellence must guide the process.

Policy and Procedure

Policies express institutional and administrative goals and guidelines. Each written policy lays out expectations for how the institution and its employees must function in a given situation. The philosophy of the institution should be included in any policy manual. When appropriate, policies should refer back to the guiding philosophies and mission of the university.

Procedures indicate how faculty and staff must implement or comply with policies. They suggest when to act or to not act in a given situation.

Training

Faculty and staff may misunderstand or have issues with even the best written policies and procedures. That’s why it is important to have a training procedure in place. Training gives key stakeholders, like professors and instructional designers, the opportunity to further clarify the meaning of policy and procedures. Faculty and staff may have questions that require clarification. Also, those who have not “bought in” may get convinced of the value of the policy and procedures through frank discussions that accompany proper training.

Supervision/Accountability

Policy and procedure writing proves a waste of time without effective administrative follow through. Once policy and procedures are established, supervisors must oversee implementation. When necessary, they will need to hold faculty and staff accountable for inconsistent compliance. Since policies and procedures protect both the university administration and employees, hopefully incidents of non compliance prove rare.

2. Develop Policy Charter or Mandate Before Starting

Effective policies and procedures do an organisation no good if they disrupt the team rather than unite or focus it. Certainly those in upper management have the prerogative to impose policies and procedures. They should, however, try to make creation and adoption a team exercise as much as possible.

Effective managers bring the team on board to try and identify areas of needed change. The team may have their own productive ideas that can help the process. Before getting into specifics, those involved need to come up with guiding mandates that can keep policy and procedure creation focused and relevant. Making the process a team operation should help boost buy in.

3. Use the Right Priorities

Policies should reflect issues of priority. These include:

  • Issues involving state and national mandates and regulations
  • Issues involving liability
  • Governance of interactions, especially those of a romantic nature, involving faculty, staff, and students
  • Issues involving ethical behaviour
  • Other challenges facing the university

Next, come up with a list of new policies to consider and old ones to revise or eliminate. Examine the list to weed out potential conflicts with existing policy.

Do not try to cover every imaginable situation with a policy. This will involve too much time and effort. Consider application of the 80/20 rule from the business world in evaluating whether the university needs a policy or not.

Procedures should reflect realistic expectations of action or restraint from action from each individual employee. They should, as much as possible, take into account real human reactions in given situations. In an ideal world, for example, an instructor would have awareness of each student’s physical and emotional state and inform someone in event of trouble. In reality, instructors rarely know many students that well. Therefore, policies and procedures holding faculty to account for failing to report a student who may harm themselves or others would fall under the category of “unreasonable.”

Universities should understand that online learning and eLearning coursework will require an additional set of policies and procedures that govern the unique set of interactions that can take place in such courses.

Finally, policy and procedure manuals must allow for common sense and decision making in areas that they cannot cover.

4. Establish Goals and Values

Each university has both an organisational culture and a self perception of what it is or what it wants to be. Universities share some values with all others, while certain universities may have values in common with a limited number of schools. Sometimes the organisational culture may come into conflict with institutional goals and values.

The university must allow its established goals and values to drive the process. Organisational culture has powerful importance. Policy and procedure writing must take this into account. Any changes in policy and procedures reflect the idea that some part of organisational culture no longer works for the institution as a whole. The process should include communication about precisely what will get changed, but also why.

5. Discourage Deliberate Indifference

Deliberate indifference occurs when an institution ignores or covers up a situation that has risks to liability, public perception, or violations of rights. Sexual harassment serves as a common area where universities face challenges dealing with a serious issue.

When crafting policies and procedures, anticipate risks and put together plans on how to deal with situations. The more risk involved, the more precise the administration may want to write the policy. Procedures should include multiple processes for redress and appeal.

Deliberate indifference can break a university’s reputation and end careers. Universities should anticipate and plan to deal with risk inherent situations head on.

6. Balance Precision and Flexibility

Policies and procedures must have precise language to lessen misunderstandings. No policy and procedure manual, however, can anticipate every type of situation. Human beings remain an unpredictable animal and will surprise with how much ingenuity they can use to create trouble or fall into messy accidents.

When appropriate, policy and procedure manuals must include flexible response. Faculty and staff need latitude for applying their experience, knowledge, and common sense in problem solving. Not every issue can go to upper management. Not every problem requires intervention. Also, faculty and staff should have some freedom and latitude to consider opportunities not foreseen by policy and procedure.

An overwritten policy and procedure manual can deaden initiative and create a staff that functions efficiently, but too robotically to help the university grow.

7. Practise Good Policy Writing

Policies and procedure manuals must follow clear and standard English. The diction must, as much as possible, conform to the language and usage of lay people. This, however, can prove challenging because policy and procedure manuals must also follow specific legal usage of words and terms.

Policy writing should also include a description of the scope. To whom does the policy apply? For example, some universities have instructional design policies that apply to beginning lecturers, but not an experienced full professor.

The document must illustrate the chain of supervisory and accountability command. In other words, who oversees who. Also, what punishments for non compliance may occur at which juncture? These can range from adverse action reports to termination, but the policy and procedure manual should explain these in detail.

Policy and procedure writing serve as the backbone of the modern university. Effective policies and procedures guide faculty and staff, reflect the institution’s values and goals, and enjoy support, or, at the very least, understanding, from the vast majority of the employees. Bad policy and procedure creation widens rifts between institutional values and organisational culture, can alienate the people administration depends on the most, and deepens dysfunction.

Effective policy and procedure creation and adoption will not save a struggling institution on its own, but it can help move it back in the right direction

(c) Darlo Group.

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