Friday, October 28, 2005

Ask the Administrator: How Faculty Look From Here

In response to the open call for questions, two correspondents asked variations on how faculty look from the dean’s office.

One asked specifically about the need for ‘face time’ with the dean. Should a professor coming up for tenure, or angling for some goodie, make the effort to put in ‘face time’?*

I hate to be squirmy, but it depends on the institutional culture of your college, and the personal quirks of your dean. At my previous school, face time was almost a fetish. Oddly, the way it counted was the number of hours per day you were conspicuously on campus, but only after 9:00 a.m. Early arrival didn’t get you any points, but early departure certainly cost you some. I found it disheartening and vaguely sick, but it was pretty entrenched.

At my current school, we’ve had a recent change. Under a previous regime, face time was an unwritten requirement for tenure. Under the current regime, it isn’t. (I’m much happier with the current one, btw. I find suck-ups creepy, and the old system definitely rewarded vertical attention. Under the new system, I can actually get some work done.) As a card-carrying introvert, I find the ‘face time’ requirement perverse, but not everybody shares that preference.

(That particular correspondent worked at a research university, so I really have to plead ignorance of how this particular issue plays out in that setting. Anyone in the blogosphere have any thoughts on that?)

The second asked an interesting variation. She took up my challenge to dodge the draft and volunteer for administrative assignments as a way to gain valuable professional experience. Her dean referred her to the academic vp, which is already a great sign. Now she wants to know what she can ask for, in terms of goodies, while volunteering for extra work.

This is one of the rare times in which it might actually pay to put your cards on the table. If you just go in with “I’ve got a business proposition for you,” you risk the old glazed expression and roll of the eyes. Instead, go in with something along the lines of “I’m interested in working on my professional development in the ‘service’ area, and I’ve got some ideas on how to do that in ways that could help the college.” Then make your pitch, and ask for whatever goodie (course release, probably) you would need to make doing a good job possible. The first time out, you may have to compromise some on the goodie – if you’re willing to take the long view, I say, be willing to bargain down the first time.

The advantage of this approach, besides its honesty, is that it changes the way your proposal will be viewed (assuming your vp isn’t a complete idiot). Instead of coming off as “I’m trying to dodge teaching” or “I’m trying to con you,” you come off as someone who could be the go-to person in the near future for the next assignment. And there will always be a next assignment. That kind of respect has a way of paying off professionally in the long run, even if it seems to make little difference in the very short term. Go-to people have a funny way of climbing fast.

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

* Per yesterday’s entry, ‘face time’ with students, in the form of actually showing up for your assigned classes, is absolutely mandatory. I mean, sheesh.