Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to explore suzhi requirements and expectations to double-shouldered academics as middle-level cadres in a Chinese higher education institute (HEI) as an initial step to examine the interplays between suzhi requirement and expectations and organizational operational mechanism in the Chinese context. Design/methodology/approach - The study adopted an exploratory single-case approach for the study. In this study, 22 participants composed of middle-level cadres, other stakeholders at the university, college/department and business unit levels were interviewed. Findings - Suzhi requirements for the cadres followed the Communist Party of China s (CPC) guideline, the required de, neng, qin, ji and lian was abstract and vague. With the parallel systems, the CPC and administrative lines, there were discrepancies between the CPC required suzhi and those expected by the stakeholders. A social phenomenon, official rank-oriented standard (ORS, guan ben wei), was found significantly intertwining with the self suzhi expectation of the cadres, unveiling a more complex dynamics than most research reported for the Chinese public sector organizations (PSOs). Research implications - With the initial qualitative findings unveiling suzhi as an organizational construct, this study informs future empirical research in the indigenous suzhi phenomenon in organizational setting. The conceptualized results of our study offer new insight for future indigenous Chinese management research in all PSOs including state-owned enterprises (SOEs).