Tuesday, October 04, 2005


The Draft, or, How to Get an Administrative Job

One of the more annoying tasks I have to perform is to nominate (i.e. draft) faculty to serve on various campus committees. Nobody looks forward to the tap on the shoulder, and much of the general frustration faculty have with administration comes from it.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had several vacancies to fill, none of them especially attractive. There’s no really graceful way to handle it. If I pick people who generally avoid these things like the plague, I get reports back from the committee chairs that Professor so-and-so never attended the meetings. Alternately, sometimes I’ll challenge a malcontent to put up or shut up by placing him on a committee that grinds his particular ax. Professor Cranky will respond in one of three ways: outright refusal (tenure means never having to say you’re sorry), skipping every meeting, or, worst of all, attending every meeting and being such an antisocial presence that his eventual removal is welcomed on all sides.

The easiest method is to go back, again and again, to the few good soldiers (and/or the folks who don’t have tenure yet). It works great the first time you do it, but over time, it’s not sustainable. Picking mostly on the untenured means that you lose the benefit of experienced voices, and you ratify the cultural expectation that tenure means on-the-job retirement. Picking on the few good soldiers effectively punishes them for being helpful, and rewards the laggards for lagging. Over time, the ranks of the willing thin out.

I’ve been corresponding with an academic blogger who is thinking of moving from faculty to administration. In composing my advice, I realized that the strategy I used to make the move was pretty effective, and I’ve never seen anyone else use it: volunteer. Go to your chair or dean, and actually volunteer for projects. Make the draft unnecessary.

I did that, explaining to my then-dean that I was interested in testing the administrative waters, and that I would appreciate the opportunity to try. He seemed shocked, which I now understand, but that started the ball rolling.

If you’re basically sane, and you play well with others, I’d be shocked to see an offer like that go unanswered for any length of time. From a dean’s perspective, the chance to avoid a really unpleasant dilemma is very, very tempting. If a junior-ish faculty member steps up and asks to help with outcomes assessment, or a retention initiative, or whatever, my dilemma evaporates immediately, and that professor gains the kind of experience that helps make a subsequent leap plausible. S/he also gets a chance to find out if administrative work is actually more to her/his taste, which it isn’t for most.

If you want to test the waters, dodge the draft, and volunteer.

I've been at a CC for 5 years and I have taken the first step up the ladder towards administration. I absolutely despise it and I'm literally counting the days until I hand off these duties to someone else! I want to write and publish, and our CC really does not respect or allow that very much. I agree with your comments.
I find this very interesting, mostly because it's so different from the atmosphere at St. Martyr's. This is the only place I've been a professor, so I don't know how typical or atypical it is. Our faculty are incredibly involved in governance and committees; most of our faculty representation on these things is by election, and every spring when we run elections we have multiple people running for most positions. And when we don't -- when there's an opening that nobody's running for -- someone always eventually offers to run (and is then unanimously elected). And the tenured faculty are actually far more active in committee work than the junior folks. I wonder if it's because (1) filling the positions is coming from within the faculty ourselves rather than from the administration, and (2) we realize that some of these committees wield real power, and it's important for the faculty to have a strong voice to represent our goals, advocate for us, plan our curricula, etc. Clearly a very different atmosphere than what you're talking about, which sounds like a real drag.
Someday, Dean Dad, I'll take all of your advice, and when I'm an administrator, I'll have you to thank.

(I know that bloggers don't know me IRL, but I was born to be in administration...)
Ianqui -- thank or blame, as the case may be. Hope it's helpful one way or the other...

dr.s. -- yup, lots of people hate it. Best to find out early, before too much time is lost. Congrats on having the good sense to test the waters before diving in.

what now -- I have to admit, I've never fully grasped the culture or concept of a church-affiliated college. I've done the liberal arts college, the public R1, the proprietary, and the cc, and I've also adjuncted at the public comprehensive U. I've never done a church-affiliated school. It's a blind spot of mine, so your comments are especially welcome. Is there something radically different in the culture of a religious school that changes the nature of service?
UH-OH I think I screwed up. I told the provost I really enjoyed being on that committee that he appointed me to. SH*T. I'm so screwed now.

But really... although I'm not sure I'm cut out for admin, I do like being on University Committees. People are so nice, so committed, so good. And it's a rush being around people from different disciplines and to forge relationships with them.
THe smaller committees here are quite efficient and fun. Even the search committees (I've chaired 2) are rewarding. But the big committees are a complete waste of time. I blew an hour yesterday when the "Full committee" (about 15 people) met and basically the Dean and VP argued back and forth. I wrote down a nice "to do" list, though.

Our admin structure here is so flat that the admin is completely overworked. At least Deans and VPs get a nice salary. I'm asked to do more and more, with a small raise, and still do 6 classes. I'm totally swamped and I can't wait to give it up and go back to teaching.
Huh, I don't know if the difference is because it's a church-affiliated school. This is the only place I've ever worked as a faculty member, so I have nothing to compare it to. I know that we don't make the connection explicit, anyway (e.g., "I should join this committee because it's my Christian duty"), but maybe it's an implicit connection.
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