It was surprising to discover from statement 1 that most lecturers said they were unaware of the aims and objectives of the institution, their focus was to teach the curriculum given to them. I got a sense that lecturers felt they were working in isolation and rarely felt part of the institution as a whole. This idea was reinforced by comments made in follow up interviews with the lecturers that there was very little collaboration or cooperation in solving problems, or even in the planning of units goals or standards (statements 4-10).
Lecturers said they experienced short-term quick fix solutions (statement 3) to problems ranging from student discipline (statement 14), curriculum changes (statement 20) and even personal issues such as visiting a doctor (statements 40,41). There were no overriding procedures (statement 44) to deal with even the simplest of issues, often the same problems would arise 3 or 4 times, and would be dealt with in a different manner each time depending on which officer was presented with the problem.
Lecturers would get to know different officers viewpoints, then carefully select which officer to approach with the problem to achieve a favourable outcome. Often the teachers felt to get advantaged they would need to form good relationships with one or two particular officers, just to get certain jobs done, this was indicated by statements 45-47, and more so in statement 50 on using behind the scenes lobbying to gain power, influence and access to resources. Lecturers felt that officers revelled what can be crudely said as attention.
Many officers had little to do during the day, and in a strange way were grateful for the task. They would try and take ownership of the problem, even if they were not competent to do so, lecturers would often say that by giving them problems to solve, they would feel important and powerful. Consequently would try to please the lecturers with favourable outcomes, but often final decisions would be out of their hands. This would frustrate lecturers more because indications from officers would be ‘don’t worry it will all work out we are doing our best for you….
‘ Then finish off with ‘inshallah,’ which actually means if Allah wills it. But was loosely meant as ‘I don’t really know what is going to happen, the decision is out of my hands. ‘ This only fuelled an impression that many pieces of information that were passed down from a central command were never fully understood by the UAE nationals that ran TSI, they just followed orders, ignored implications and invented their own reasons for the orders.
Not only did lecturers feel that they were poorly managed and had to use what they saw as unprofessional tactics to get the job done, equally officers were thought of as being managed poorly, as they were not equipped, trained or even competent enough to do their jobs. There was an over-powering feeling that it is all about who you know, not what you know, it was felt by lecturers that this ran from the lowest paid menial worker all the way up to the commander himself.
Many thought that officers were appointed based on family connections, or contacts in higher positions of that society. Many felt that this was true of the whole country, and all institutions and organisations were run a similar manner, especially with the governments focus on ’emiratisation’ which was trying to get a larger population of local Arabs into employment, so that the country was not so reliant on foreign manpower. Many of them needed to be trained by foreigners, but at the same time the local Arabs were given power in management positions over the more talented foreigners.
It was unfortunate that many of these local Arabs entering employment were ignored and business was running as usual around them as they were not trusted to effectively or competently carry out particular jobs, many of them were left sitting around all day drinking coffee. This was similar to the situation at the Technical studies Institute, where very small, simple tasks were given to these officers, they were often given management positions over the far more talented foreign staff, who in turn felt frustrated in not being given the authority to run the institute, which they felt could be run far more efficiently and effectively.
Students had some opportunities for reward (statement 15), unfortunately many of the prize giving ceremonies took place where disappointed lecturers were not invited, or informed even in those cases where lecturers were directly responsible for the subject area for which the students were being awarded. These ceremonies took place on the parade ground, in many cases before lectures, which began at 7:00 a. m. Once a year a graduation parade took place, which was universally attended and full of pomp and circumstance, with often nationally respected military dignitaries present.
It is a well rehearsed extravaganza and a strong example of the behavioural and visual expression of the organisational culture. Staff Development for lecturers was non-existent (statement 19), when I questioned a senior officer why this was so, the response I received was surprising, “we carefully select lecturers from overseas that have already received a wealth of training, if they needed any more development we wouldn’t employ them.
” Many western staff felt that there lack of training, especially in dealing with students quite new to the English language and secondly themselves being new to the Islamic culture often caused them problems which could have been eradicated with some staff development. The area of using technology in the classrooms was noticeably absent, lecturers were not encouraged to use these, even though facilities were available. Lecturers felt that the local Arabs were equally in dire need of training, especially in management and organisation skills, as these seemed to be the roles that they were entering.
Curriculum was another major worry, all lecturers responded to statement 20 as strongly disagreeing to seeing the curriculum being reviewed and updated regularly. After probing questions, I found that lecturers of the same subject area were not even communicating with each other, they would teach to the best of their abilities, modifying the curriculum independently, but this would not be a shared, coordinated effort, which was ironic, as I found that the lecturers wouldn’t even dream about working in this way in their previous jobs.
Many of the lecturers felt that examination results were probably the greatest indicator of what teaching was going on in TSI, and that the officers looked at these more closely than any other indicator of a lecturer’s performance. Lecturers thought that as students were paid a high salary to be at the college, it is easy to continuously fail exams, repeat a year and in a way make a career of failing exams, student’s salaries would not really be affected. Examinations would often test memory rather than skills. Lecturers mentioned that this was the case as many students had just begun learning the English language.
Others argued that exams were purposely made easy to indicate a high pass rate, at the cost of a good standard of education. Often well motivated students were taught by a select few lecturers that held doctorate or masters degrees who were chosen by officers. Lecturers felt that some of their colleagues had become very complacent and lazy, compromising on educational standards, as examination results could be easily passed or explained away. A key issue was that of innovation, foreign lecturers strongly disagreed with statement 25 that innovation was highly valued.
Lecturers claimed that many of the local officers would listen very carefully to fully understand new ideas and then discourage the idea based on ‘it wouldn’t be practical to implement at the TSI’, or say ‘the commander will not go for that here. ‘ Often the officers would then present the ideas as their own, to get recognition for ‘their abilities’ and hope for further power influence and promotion. The foreign staff could see this going on, and some lecturers would play the game, as they new that if the officer receives more power and influence, they could use his new connections, power and influence for their own purposes.
The officer is obviously impressed with the lecturers’ viewpoint, as he ‘stole’ his idea, presenting it as his own, and therefore would listen more keenly for any further ideas. Often ideas would be passed on with the lecturers’ own agenda in mind. This worked well for some lecturers as there were no promotions, incentives or chances to develop (statements 27,29,50), they would never directly have influence or power over such things as curriculum, examinations, funding of facilities, distribution of workloads, choosing who the heroes of the organisation were, hiring, firing, etc. , except by manipulating influential officers.
The ‘clever’ lecturers that were ‘in-with’ the officers seemed to get an easier ride, they even and had power over their colleagues. They often kept their cards very close to their chests and in some cases given the role of a section supervisor. It was thought that these section supervisors were preventing communication directly from the lecturer to an officer and even the officers would prevent communication between lecturers and senior officers, or the commander, so that their own power and influence would be maintained in the eyes of their respective supervisors (statements 42-56).
The most innovative ideas came from the lecturers, which went up this chain of command, but at each stage supervisors would take it and present it as their own ideas, consequently many of the lecturers would implement change, or improvements by themselves and keep it to themselves (statement 8). Lecturers felt that the only real indication of their abilities would be highlighted in examination results, and then the senior officers would pay attention, and realise where the talent lay.
Unfortunately many of the lecturers that had been there for a long time, and the officers they had influence over had arms that spread throughout the institution and often blinded the senior officers into thinking that good management skills were the reason that lecturers were performing so well and that the students were so successful. From statements 30 to 38, most lecturers felt that their only reward was financial in nature, on the surface the salary was substantial. The salary structure was peculiar, in that all western teachers would get the same salary regardless of qualifications, experience or family situations.
TSI lecturers’ were on the whole either young, at the beginning of their career, or single older men at the end of their career. Middle aged, married men were few and far between, probably due to the expensive educational costs for children, relatively small housing allowances and a lack of professional development. One of the biggest issues that foreign Arab lecturers’ came across was the discrepancy in their salaries, they earned about 65% less in comparison to their western colleagues. Many of them were educated in western universities and carry out exactly the same duties as the western lecturers, many as competently, if not more so.
Initially I thought that this sub-group was formed for this reason alone, but on questioning the foreign Arab staff, it became clear that even though they felt the situation was unfair and that their salaries should be higher, nearly all of them had a strong belief in God, and believed that the amount of money that they will earn in their lifetime is pre-destined, so there was little point in making such an issue out of what was a relatively trivial point. A sub-culture was formed based on language and religion amongst the foreign lecturers where the Muslim Arab lecturers shared a bond through their language.
The Christian and Muslim lecturers form the western world that didn’t speak Arabic felt they couldn’t wholly be part of this group. Sometimes the western staff would be a little suspicious of conversations with the local Arab officers, primarily because they were not sure of what was being said, or what behind the scenes tactics were taking place. This balkanised culture that was the TSI had sub-groups that often competed with each other for influence over rapidly promoted local Arabs, who in the near future would weald a lot of influence and power due to new connections.
The controlling function of management seemed to be ignored by the management, and when designing the questionnaire, it was interesting that lecturers spent so little time discussing this area. Lecturers felt that management didn’t get involved until a problem/complaint arose, they went further saying it was possible to go through an employment contract (2 years) not knowing who their officer in charge actually was, as long as you kept your head down and didn’t bring attention to yourself. The feeling of being autonomous in the classroom gave teachers a sense of freedom.
Often lecturers would complain about the job, but regularly say they enjoyed their time in the classroom. There were biannual classroom observations for each lecturer, but these were carried out to highlight only the severest problems, The officers that would carry out the process, knew very little about education, and definitely had no training in how to assess a lecturers performance. All students, officers, foreign Arabic speaking staff and about a quarter of the western staff were Muslim and had beliefs and values based on the Islamic religion. This became the underlying culture at the TSI.
Ceremonies and rituals always began and ended with Allah in mind. The working day would be broken for prayers, where students, lecturers and officers lined up together to face Allah in prayer. This was the only time that one felt that an officers position was equal to that of a poor-achieving student. It was here that strong relationships were thought to have formed. Some of the western non-Muslim staff felt excluded and managed to form their own relationships with those Muslims amongst the officers, lecturers and students that didn’t pray, or even went out drinking on the quiet (considered an act against the Islamic religion).
Noticeable shared Islamic traditions were washing rituals, prayer, men with beards, respect for non-Muslims, concern for others, friendly relationships more caring and nurturing in attitude perhaps at the cost of progress, avoiding conflict where possible (western staff really noticed that there were never any flared tempers, or arguments, the Muslim officers and students would always back down first) recognising and respecting a hierarchy in authority as is expected through the family structure that Arabs adhere to with their father being the boss.
The extended family structure allows Muslims to collaborate on many decisions, even though this is seen at TSI when decisions are made, only a restricted group of people would be welcomed in the discussion, often based on previously formed relationships rather than bringing in expertise. Closed meetings were kept quiet and communication was poor, probably to avoid upsetting other members of staff that were being excluded. Consequently decisions were made, rules and regulations formalised and often staff could not guess where these decisions were being made or why.
The non-Muslim staff often felt respected when meeting Muslim students, officers and lecturers, greetings could go on for 5-10 minutes. O’Neill’s (1994, p. 107) four independent elements of organisational activities are related to TSI in the following way. Purpose – Those official educational purposes of the organisation laid down by the mission statement have not been realised in practice, students are coming back once training is complete with a very academic background from universities, but little practical ability to operate and maintain the various equipment of the armed forces.
These students return to join the ranks and share similar roles with the current officers in TSI. Many lecturers hoped to see a change in TSI over the years as this educated cohort begin replacing their relatively poorly trained officers and start making effective decisions to improve the structure of TSI, hoping job security becomes related to ability rather than relationships with senior officers. Symbolism – western staff are well respected, but at the same time through management structures and styles, ceremonies and rituals, they are implicitly reminded they are not part of the whole process at TSI.
Some staff regard themselves as specialist experts given a unique status, other staff feel that they are ignored and just regarded as the hired help. Networks – People meet and greet each other very well, this seems to be the custom from Islamic teachings, working together is a little harder to achieve possibly due to the lack of reward (apart from financial), with many players attempting to keep their positional authority, keeping contacts in higher positions of authority impressed with their abilities. Officers in turn take more and more advice from these players, influencing superiors to get certain jobs done depending on personal agendas.
Communication seems to be restricted, maybe not only to prevent awareness in talented subordinates, but also maybe to highlight incompetence when it only exists due to a lack of information. Arabic culture is seen to avoid conflict, and if told by a trusted colleague of the incompetence of a member of staff, he will listen, but rarely confront the member of staff to get to the truth. Staff feel uncomfortable with this, as they rarely know what is being said about them, or for what reason, and then are often guessing why their contract for employment has not been renewed.
Integration – Different groups of people are rarely brought together, this only seems to emphasize the sub-cultures that exist in TSI, all foreign lecturers felt (statement 57) that there should be more team building exercises / social interactions between military officers and academic staff. Part of this I suspect is to network with relatively higher ranking officers, and part of this is to genuinely eradicate the small amount of suspicion that exists between lecturers themselves at the same time bringing officers together with staff creating a shared understanding of negotiated norms and meanings as said by Nias et al. (1989, p. 39).