Tuesday, August 02, 2005

From Faculty to Administration, Part 3: The Downside

Okay, if the pay and opportunities are better in administration, what’s the downside?


Start with the obvious: time in the classroom is supplanted by time in meetings. You have to be in the office, dressed for office work, five days (or more) per week, twelve months per year. You will be subject to public scrutiny. Your utterances will be parsed, both fairly and unfairly, and will be taken as evidence for any number of conspiracy theories. You will be accused of all manner of personal perfidy, of selling out academic integrity, of running the college like a business, of ignoring the time-honored traditions of (whatever), and of being ignorant of the inner workings of many of the disciplines in your area. You will see the seamier sides of the lives of people you respect. You will be forced to keep one hand tied behind your back while being publicly attacked by people who have tenure but lack knowledge of the case at hand. (You’ll know why they’re wrong, but the relevant facts will be confidential.) In some cases, depending on your circumstances and your institution, you may not have tenure, but you’ll have to manage people who do.

You’ll be accused of favoritism for applying the FMLA. (That actually happened at my previous school, when I arranged a maternity leave for a pregnant professor.) You’ll be accused of holding a grudge against long-standing department chairs, faculty, or anyone who wanted your job. You’ll have to maintain a calm demeanor in the face of a tenured, credential professional having a personal meltdown in your office. You’ll have to maintain a calm demeanor in the face of extreme prima donna behavior by people who can’t be fired. You will be called many names, both to your face and behind your back.

This ain’t for sissies.

We deal with it in different ways. The successful women managers I know deal with it in one of two ways: either extreme graciousness (thereby disarming opposition) or extreme directness. (The most successful one manages to do both. I’m not sure how she does it, but I take notes on method whenever she speaks.) The successful male managers deal with it by compartmentalizing. Unsuccessful managers of either gender screw up by basing business decisions on personal considerations, based on either personal like/dislike or making the prima donna go away. The ‘personal like/dislike’ category fails because it simply ratchets up the expectations of the favored (so the eventual, inevitable ‘no’ comes as betrayal), and it feeds the resentment of the disfavored. Appeasing prima donnas simply encourages them, and encourages others to adopt prima donna behavior.

Some faculty will consider you a sellout. Others will consider you failed faculty.

If you’re willing to let this stuff roll off your back, the administrative track can carry some very real intrinsic rewards.

For one, you can tinker with the structure of rewards at your college, to try to bring them into alignment with the college’s goals. (Tenure represents a natural limit to this, as does the omnipresent funding shortfall, but there’s usually at least some room to move.) You can, depending on who preceded you, sometimes right some past wrongs. You can bring new perspectives to settled procedures, like a new lamp in an old room. In the best of cases, you can provide the background conditions for professors and students to do their best work.

If you have a vision of what your college could be, and a firm set of values, and a lot of patience, and stamina, and thick skin, and willingness to accept vicarious gratification, and the ability to be nice to people who aren’t nice to you, and a sense of the big picture, and a sense of irony, and an internal emotional gyroscope, and the ability to see three steps ahead, and a high tolerance for verbal abuse…

and that’s why the jobs are easier to find.

(Sorry if this seems whiny. Just wanted to give the other side of the story.)