Tuesday, January 02, 2007


And...We're Back!

A new year, a fresh start, some resolutions I know I'll break by, say, Saturday.

The vacation was revelatory. Mostly I realized just how sleep-deprived I am almost every single day. Just a few days of getting up gloriously, decadently late, and I could feel my personality snap back to its original shape. By this weekend, I felt absolutely human. A few days at the office should take the bloom off the rose, but I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

I reconnected with some old friends, which is good for the soul. They're both in new relationships, with all the giddiness that brings. It's heartening to see. Another old friend recently had a baby with her new family, and has been sending unspeakably cute photos of the little guy (whom we've nicknamed “Baseball Head,” since his head is absolutely, perfectly round).

The Boy and The Girl were mostly in their glory over the holidays, except for The Girl's nasty cough. The Wife and I got to spend some actual time together, which was wonderful and much needed. And we substituted salmon for lutefisk, a policy I wholeheartedly recommend.

I sent off a job application, wishing I could list the blog on it. (“Must be conversant in issues facing contemporary higher education.” Uh, yeah...) This Spring will probably bring a few more (applications, not blogs). I've decided that the trick is to look when you don't have to. I'm being relatively picky about it, applying only to jobs I think I'd actually take if offered; that's one of the luxuries of looking when you don't have to. The tragedy of it is that the family is really starting to put down roots in our current community. There aren't many colleges within commuting distance, so, barring an unforeseen opening, a new job would require moving.

It's a tough decision, but the frustrations of working with one hand tied behind my back are getting to me.

Last time out was very different. When I was at Proprietary U, I was sufficiently desperate to get out that I looked at dean jobs just about anywhere. I wasn't picky. Honestly, given the “damn the torpedoes” strategy I adopted, the job I have now was an incredible stroke of luck. It's hard to think about walking away from an incredible stroke of luck without feeling like some sort of cosmic ingrate. But it's time.

This time, I'm not desperate. I don't foresee getting fired (although people often don't), and my family is happy here. I can be a little picky. Certain regions, types of school, and institutional quirks are out of bounds for me. I've learned to read ads differently. If a school is advertising multiple vice presidential positions (academics, business & finance, student services) at the same time, it's probably the aftermath of a brutal purge. Not a big fan of brutal purges. If its institutional identity is confused, or intensely religious, I'm not interested. And super-high cost-of-living locations (New York City, Boston, San Francisco) are simply out of the question.

(For whatever reason, I feel pulled towards the Midwest. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan. We shall see.)

The question of references is a nasty one at this level. Not listing my colleagues would be a huge red flag. Listing my colleagues would, if all goes well, eventually tip them off that I'm looking, and I just don't know how that would be received. The grapevine is pretty quick in these parts.

In a perfect world, I'd put the blog on my c.v. Sadly, no. Even my current employer doesn't know about it, which is as it must be.

Then there's the question of institutional level. Does the 'cc' label immediately rule me out of bounds at a four-year college? Would I have to do a 'lateral' to switch institutional levels (i.e. go for deanships at four-year schools)? I really don't give two hoots about institutional prestige, in the sense of wanting to bask in the glory of a Name, so the prospect of staying with cc's doesn't bother me that way, but it does limit the options somewhat.

Then there are quirks. I've noticed that many Midwestern colleges have “assistant vice president” positions, which I haven't seen in the Northeast. Some colleges – usually small ones, but not always – combine academics and student services in one position. To my mind, anybody with that job should be titled either 'provost' or 'martyr.' And any small or medium sized college with more than three or four vice presidents has a serious organizational problem. Finally, there's the political climate. CC's are public, so they're buffeted by the political winds in a given state and/or county. I'd hate to walk into a position only to have the voters pass something like a TABOR initiative and reduce me to a hatchet man. I didn't go into higher ed to dismantle it. Honestly, part of my frustration is that I've had six years of uninterrupted economic decline between my two colleges; for once, I'd actually like to manage growth, rather than retrenchment. (Maybe the Midwest isn't such a good idea. Hello, Georgia?)

A new year, a new challenge. Stay tuned...

How exciting! Your job search I mean. Of course, I'll root for you to come to the Midwest.

In regards to your last point, being at a private college doesn't necessarily insulate you from political winds of change: in Georgia and West VA (I think), students graduating with a certain GPA get free college tuition to state schools.* This has made life hell for the private liberal arts schools in those states, and has turned deans into the "hatchet men" you describe.

That said, working in a state without such a plan, my college is experiencing a boom: in enrollment, fundraising, and hiring. And that's fun to be a part of.

Ooh, I love experiencing the job market vicariously! I'm looking forward to updates.

* I haven't looked at the details of these programs, so I apologize for my vagueness here...
When I saw your list of MidWest locations, I thought "ooh, he wants Rust Belt weather with a Creative Class economy". (Yes, I've been reading the blog for a while.)

I always wonder how people handle the references issue--seems like there is no way to keep a search private.
A couple of thoughts from one whose kids are now 30-something and the retirement horizon looks like the year 2010.

The best way to handle not listing current colleagues on a job app it to stipulate in your cover letter and CV that it's confidential. Request they contact you for those names if/when appropriate. This isn't perfect but if the search committee cannot handle your request for confidentiality, maybe you don't want to work at that institution.

Re the question of mobility - lateral/vertical, etc: faculty and admin colleagues at colleges & universities tend to be snobby towards the CC label (frankly when combined with proprietary it's probably even harder). I've been at private LA, regional and main campus Big 10 during the last 30 years and don't see much change. Your best opportunity might be a lateral move to a regional 4-year campus in a public system. If you're looking in academic affairs, the snobbery gets worse. There are strong expectations of experience as tenured faculty, and dept. chair, perhaps assoc. dean. The assistant VP (AVP) may be a good route to explore if the responsibilities match your strengths and experience.

I don't know what hoops you've jumped to get where you are, but look for a very strong match with your academic specialty and admin accomplishments.

I think institutions in the midwest and south may be more open to your lateral move than in the east. Others will have to share impressions of those in the west.

Sorry if this is too much "cold water" early in the New Year . . .
DD- you ever wonder how many university employees across the coutnry read your blog and think "I bet that's Dean Soandso, and he's talking about me!"
Thanks for such great comments!

Maggie -- I envy you terribly, working in a boom environment. Maybe someday, by the law of large numbers...

Luolin - you nailed it. I lean towards major cities in the rust belt -- Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, even Kansas City. Methinks I must be repeating myself, if I'm getting so preditable!

Anon -- that was actually really helpful (not being sarcastic). I wouldn't mind staying at the cc level, and I think you're right that an assistant VP level might be the right next move. Name snobbery is a real phenomenon in academia, sadly. Having gone to a 'name' school for undergrad, though, I can say truthfully that names are overrated.

anon2 - yup. I hope that happens, since it would indicate that I'm writing about things of broader interest.
DD: I'd like to hear more about your views on the appropriate number of vice presidents for a small university. My employer has around 2500 undergrads and six vice presidents: Academic Affairs (also the dean), Student Services, Development, Enrollment, Marketing/Public Relations & Business Affairs. Various directorates report to these vice presidents, each of whom reports to the president. What are your concerns? Over-specialization? Constricted worldview? Ballooning bureaucracy?

Thanks... back now to lurking!

I don't think that my institution is currently even hiring a position that would be appropriate for you, and it may never be. But I would really, really like it if you were in the administration here.

Of course, the funny thing is that you could get hired here, and I'd never even know it! I'd probably treat you with the scorn that I heap on all the administrators that I know. I'd be sitting there wishing that my dean were as cool as Dean Dad, and never even know that he was. ;-)
As was said, your letter should say confidential references furnished on request. You letter should also ask that your application be kept confidential. Finally, if they do ask for references, first give them colleagues who have moved to other institutions and tell them that you will furnish current colleagues when appropriate. My 2 cents
The suggestion about leaving references confidential is a good one, but might not hold. A senior administrator at my institution recently applied for a position elsewhere and the chair of the search committee called me for a reference simply he was in my discipline; he said he wanted to know what a colleague's opinion was (though I don't know him either personally or by reputation). I'm just a department chair and was not on the administrator's list of references. I did abide by the caller's request that I keep the call confidential, but nonetheless, I knew that the administrator was on the market well before the news broke.
Don't skip Minneapolis / St. Paul --- the education funding is stil pretty good, the economy is more than decent and the CC to public 4-year transfer agreement means enrollment at CCs is high.

Besides, you'd love to live in the Twin Cities -- great cultural opprotunities, high performing schools for the kids and lots of lakes!
Philosophy Factory insider makes a good case for the Twin Cities--let me insert a modest plug for the "Midsouth"--as in Little Rock and its environs.

The main downsides are the uneven public schools, the persistence of racial tensions and the long, long summer. Balancing these are such considerations as having four identifiable seasons (we came from Wyoming, where there are two: Snowplow and Road Construction), a distinctive and varied local culture, some breathtakingly beautiful open spaces (mountains, prairies, rivers, lakes, swamps...you name it, Arkansas has it), a vital arts/literature/culture scene, good barbecue (no, make that "great") and genuinely welcoming people. Add to this a pretty firm public committment to funding higher education, and you end up with--well, not paradise, but a Pretty Good Place in which to teach and live.

Have fun sending out those apps. This is the third year in a row that I've NOT done so...feels odd, but restful, too.
"It's hard to think about walking away from an incredible stroke of luck without feeling like some sort of cosmic ingrate. But it's time."

I had that feeling as I was job-hunting this last fall. But I just changed jobs (first day at the end of a 4-day power outage!) and I'm so incredibly glad I did.
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