Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Reader Appreciation Day

Thanks to everyone who commented and emailed on the Honors issue! I was able to catch up, in two days, to peers here who have been chewing on the issue for years. You have no idea how helpful your feedback was! I haven’t solved my dilemma, but my confusion is much more informed and sophisticated than it was before. I consider that a major victory.

Sometimes, academic blogging is damn useful. Take that, Ivan Tribble!

Through back channels, I received some very provocative comments on the ‘talent vs. experience’ piece. My brother (the brains of the family) suggested a baseball metaphor: administration is the front office, and faculty are the players. A superstar player elevates a team. A superstar administrator, well, doesn’t. At best, a good administrator won’t torpedo a team. Accordingly, the goal in hiring front office people is error avoidance, and hiring for experience is good for that. The goal in hiring players is finding stars, which means choosing the promising prospect over the established mediocrity. Hiring for talent is the best way to do that.

My critique is essentially that a good front office actually does lift a team, over time (compare Billy Beane or Theo Epstein’s track record to, say, whoever runs the Devil Rays). It just isn’t as obvious. Success, in management, is mostly vicarious. Good managing involves putting the right talent in the right positions for good things to happen. It doesn’t always work, heaven knows, but over time, good managers get better results.

He also pointed out, which I sometimes forget in my academic tunnel vision, that the ‘hiring for talent’ approach is actually the unusual one in the business world. Dilbert is all about the disconnect between talent and experience. The cliché about no experience without a job and no job without experience resonates because it captures the blind spot of hiring for experience. The way we hire full-time faculty in academia is unusual; the way we hire administrators is much closer to the business world. (And, ‘leadership crisis’ rhetoric notwithstanding, it wouldn’t be surprising to see future administrators come increasingly from the business world.)

As several commenters noted, in the hiring for talent model, longtime adjuncts are disadvantaged because they are presumed to have failed to show talent. A doctorate comes with a ‘sell-by’ date, at least in the humanities and social sciences. (Postdocs in the sciences are more complicated, and I don’t fully understand them.) Given the choice between a 20 year old minor leaguer and a 30 year old minor leaguer of identical stats, a general manager will go with the 20 year old; if a player is 30 and still hasn’t made the bigs, he won’t. The 20 year old at least has the potential.

The gender implications of this, I think, are obvious. If more women than men take critical time out for parental leave, more women will pass the ‘sell-by’ date than men. The fact that this clock largely coincides with the biological clock is a very dirty trick.

Anyway, I want to thank my readers for coming through so gloriously, and to make an offer that I hope doesn’t come off as arrogant. Since I seem to have the ‘blogging dean’ category pretty much to myself, if you have one of those ‘why do administrators do that’ questions, fire away! (My email is ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.) Depending on the question and your expressed preference (if any), I can answer either privately or as a blog entry. (Unless you specify otherwise, I’ll use pseudonyms.) It seems that managerial motives are opaque to lots of people; if I can help to demystify some of them (the ones that make sense, anyway), I’d be glad to. (Alternately, if you just want confirmation that your chair/dean/vp is colossally missing the point, that can happen, too.)

Besides, it ain’t always easy coming up with topics...

To clarify my baseball metaphor, another factor to consider is that a bad player will usually inflict less damage in the long haul than a bad general manager. A bad prof gives a department a bad name; a bad administrator is likely to throw a wrench into the operation of the entire college.

It's not that a good administrator isn't very useful to a college, but that a bad administrator could be crippling. Thus (I'm guessing), the goal when hiring for administrative positions is focused more on guaranteed competence rather than taking chances on potential all-stars.

Of course, I could be wrong. I'm speaking in wild-ass generalities.

Another factor to consider in the disconnect is proof of talent. How can a potential prof prove prodigious powers? (Aside from using unnecessary alliteration?) Published papers. What's the best way for a potential administrator prove her fitness for the job? By demonstrating that she's done it before.

Not to say the system can't be beaten. In the world-o-bidness, the way to get past the "need experience to get hired, can't get experience without getting hired" trap is to find the numerous cracks in the system. For example, taking a job that spills over into the desired area, finding areas of shortage and/or shrieking need, or the classic trick of using personal connections. The first two sound like some of Dean Dad's suggestions from earlier posts.

As a complete outsider, I'm surprised that longtime adjuncts have a hard time finding gigs. Dude, this isn't baseball. I'd much sooner hire someone with the credentials and six years of teaching experience than someone with only the credentials.


On another note, for those wondering, the Boy and the Girl are exactly as he describes them. No exaggerations.

The Boy is freakishly tall, disturbingly smart, and has a kind heart. He's also a one-kid bronco-bustin' rodeo with the destructive power of nine normal men. The Girl is a darlin' little thing and a sweetheart. Who will one day possess the destructive power of nine normal men.
Dean Dad,

regarding your offer to field questions about administrative issues.

Be careful what you ask for, you might get it!!!
You know, I just thought of a possible refutation to the first part of my own argument.

Hiring administrators is probably a much less dangerous practice than hiring administrators, due to the slavering beast called "Tenure." A bad administrator can gum things up badly, but can be fired. A bad prof? A bad prof is forever.

(Unless they're denied tenure, I guess. How common is that, anyway? How often are folks denied tenure?)

I still think the "proof of talent" argument is valid, though.
Yep, I may have to do as Academic Coach warns: ask all my crazy questions to you, and then you'll be sorry. :-)
There's another problem with this baseball player/manager metaphor. In baseball, the players are the ones that get the big bucks. In academia, administrators are the ones making the big money-- well, bigger money. In fact, most of the administrators I know as friends would fully admit that money was part of the reason they decided to go down that path.

I don't know if this connection makes sense or not, but another thing to think about: aren't most managers kinda washed-up/aged former players? :-)
I must say that I am quite proud of my sons, Dean Dad and his brother. I have tried the path of passive reading, but this is one post that I need to make (Don't worry boys, I won't embarass you.)

As a former chairperson for 15 years the number of persons in tenure line tracks that were denied tenure was about 50%. We have been reluctant to award tenure since we don't want to get a slug, so tenure is awarded to those who know the system: Publish in recognized disciplinary journals, which is difficult as there is a limit to publications. Attend and present papers and response papers to panels, become visible on campus as a worker, not a whinner. Effort does not count as much a success. Just because you are co-chair of a committee doen't mean you did the work. Perhaps only the title (read dean dad's essay on shared responsibility and how it rarely works, but it allows the blame to be shared with others if it doesn't)

Tenure is a positive thing as along as it is awarded carefully. When a person has tenure and does not perform on committees and does nothing to contribute to the welfare of the department/college, then our deans are permitted with the support of the chairperson to assign an extra course to make up for the difficiency. This is also tied in with denial of discretionary raises. A double whammy. I have seen tenured people retire early, or leave due to this policy. There are ways of making tenured profs who don't carry their weight, feel the pressure.
Wow! Family day on the blog! Mom -- anything to add?

It's true that the best baseball players in the majors make more than their managers. It's also true that they do it without tenure, and with very short careers. (Julio Franco draws gasps for still playing at 45.) It's also true that pay, in that scenario, is contingent upon production. If you hit .200, you don't keep your job.

It's true that the floor for administrative salaries is higher than the floor for faculty salaries, but that makes sense; to convince a professor to give up both summers and tenure, you have to offer something. It doesn't follow, though, that deans make as much as some would lead you to believe. If I were transferred to the English department at my college, with my current salary intact, I would be the 19th highest paid in the department. 19th. Say what you will about the siren call of filthy lucre, but I don't see them here in July and August.

Dad -- welcome! I like the idea of assigning additional courses to equalize workloads, though as a cc, we're already at the statutory max for courseloads. It's something to consider going forward, though.
So I have a question. I am in a one-year FT job at a CC. I just finished two years in a similar position at another CC, after a year as a freeway flyer. I finished the PhD 5 years ago (when I had left academia for family and financial reasons), and have tons of teaching experience. Last year was my first real year on the national market, and I had ten interviews at both CCs and teaching-focused 4-years. Five of those went on to campus interviews (although two were local), and I was offered a one-year that had initially been advertised as TT, with assurances that it would probably be converted back to TT without anouther search, and the local position which I chose because I know that they will be doing a TT search next year, and I will be applying. I have no publications (well, one book review forthcoming and another in the works) and am just now working on my first conference paper, which I am writing as an article that I will have to cut down.

Sorry for the long intro!

Here's the thing. I really like teaching at a CC. I like the class sizes, the community, the emphasis on teaching, and the feeling that I'm giving something back. As long as I have summers free, I can continue to do research and write. The college has a study abroad program and a decent amount of ProD money for going to conferences on alternate years (although we can still go at other times if we pay our own way).

But I'm also a bit frightened. How will it look to my colleagues when I say I'm on the market this year, even though I'm going to be doing my best to be the best candidate for their search? And will they believe me that I'd be happy at a CC, if I'm applying to 4-years?

The truth is, I see advantages to both. And I can see that there will be trade-offs. I also don't want to sabotage myself, though, and am scared that actually having a writing agenda -- something I MUST have to get a job at anywhere other than a CC -- might put people off.

Also, are FT fill-ins better for extending the sell-by date?
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