Friday, June 15, 2007


Ask the Administrator: Going for Deanships

A new correspondent writes:

My question has to do with a dear friend of mine, an assistant professor of music
at a small, four-year liberal arts college in the Northeast. Dear
Friend has two years' experience as a full-time faculty member and is
still ABD. He spent about five years as an adjunct (mostly at four-
year schools), and he was very active in student leadership in
graduate school. What he lacks (other than a semester or two of
adjunct work) is two-year college experience. He has it in his head
that because he's practically a PhD and spent a few months as an
acting adjunct faculty coordinator for the music department of one of
the schools where he was adjuncting, he's administrative material.
He wants to start applying for community college deanships. I've
told him that I doubt his application will be taken seriously, but he
thinks I'm full of crap. What do you think?

Sign me,

Anything can happen at any given place. That said, though, he'd have to catch lightning in a bottle for this to work.

The typical path to an academic deanship (as opposed to one in student affairs, say) is through serving first as a department chair or something similar to it. That's not an iron law, but it's a pretty common requirement. For the most part, you need to get tenure before becoming a chair. (Again, not an iron law, but exceptions are rare.) The idea, other than just gatekeeping, is to make sure that the folks in responsible roles have some idea what it is that they're managing. A department that may seem perfectly congenial and sane when you're a professor in it may reveal itself to be completely nuts when you suddenly have to manage it.

A college that appoints deans who have never managed faculty before is taking a real risk. The theory behind requiring chair service first is to make sure than someone stepping into a deanship will already have been disabused of the romantic myths of academic life, and won't be dumbstruck the first time a tenured professor cites academic freedom as justification for skipping class, or runs over her laptop with her car. You need a certain calm in the face of complete insanity, and experience can help with that, even for those with the natural temperament for it. (Some people never develop the temperament for it, and are nightmares to work with or for. Sadly, academic brilliance and managerial temperament are carried on different genes.) I'm one of the stabler people I know, and I still get thrown off my game from time to time when some moonbat with an agenda and way too much time on his hands gets new signals from the mothership.

I could imagine a very small college looking past inexperience, if its bench is severely depleted and senior. I could also imagine an imperious VP looking past inexperience, if he thinks it equates to malleability. The former may or may not be appealing; the latter certainly shouldn't be.

Over the past few years, a few studies have connected the dots and found that the relative dearth of full-time faculty hiring at lower-echelon colleges over the last few decades has depleted the pipeline for future chairs and deans. I'm not sure that colleges in this group have yet adjusted their hiring expectations accordingly; they're still able to blame weak applicant pools on idiosyncratic factors. But as the current crop of deans and administrators retires, the failure to develop a farm team will become hard to ignore.

My advice for your friend, if his role at his current college is fairly secure, is to volunteer for 'coordinator' positions or other ad hoc administrative assignments. Get a little experience, show some interest, and establish himself as a likely future chair. If the pipeline of younger hires with both taste and aptitude for administration is as thin there as it is nationally, eventually, he'll be in good shape. Just not yet.

Wise and worldly readers – your thoughts?

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

oooo boy is this potential applicant full of beans.

As a refugee from music school land (3 degrees thank you) and former adjunct professor of flute (and now a much happier associate prof of ed), this dean wannabee is truly headed for disappointment in a couple of ways.

1. He'll apply and hear nothing at all but *CRICKETS.* This is actually the best outcome.

2. He'll apply and get called in for an interview, but not make the cut. This will spur this wildly ambitious and inexperienced candidate to TRY HARDER (bad idea--he should focus on getting a full-time gig on tenure track first--those "sargent stripes" are earned).

3. He'll apply and delight the administration since they have found a suitable tool. He then gets the job for the wrong reasons: Little experience, lots of Chutzpuh, someone who's never been a fulltime prof (with full-time benefits). The administration has a perfect puppet to run roughshod over faculty for better and worse. This guy will come in with ZERO credibility. Turmoil will be had by all, and in less than 3 years he'll be run out of town after causing a ton of damage to the institution out of a dangerous combination of arrogance and ignorance.

He's trying to pursue the George Bush method of career advancement (seek jobs for which one is manifestly unfit).
It also sounds like he has a pretty low opinion of community colleges, IMHO. That if he can be a professor at a small liberal arts college, then surely that's higher on some totem pole than being a dean at a community college. But maybe I'm reading more into it than is intended.
Actually, the ABD should be a disqualification at most places, particularly given the lack of relevant experience.

Two bits sez he's also in trouble on tenure. ABD two years in is a terrible sign.

And former CC staff is right: The potential applicant has an intersting view of CC's. Bet he'd be chewed alive by staff, students and faculty.
Being ABD is a problem, not perhaps so much because of lack of a PhD but because it shows he's not good at getting things done or at finishing what he started.
At my small cc, way up north, the tradition of the promotion from within or promotion out of faculty seems moribund. Several of the recent academic deans or serious candidates were education or education administration doctors (and that doctorate was important for the search), but faculty and teaching experience was less important than knowing the TQM buzzwords and other adminstrative secret passwords.

In other words, we wanted a professional administrator, not some jumped-up faculty johnny.

And, oh boy, we got what we wanted....
My experience in applying for administrative jobs is that when they are hiring from the outside, committees are really unimaginative about transferable skills. They won't hire from the outside the kind of person who might be promoted internally. And in general they mean what the job ad says: if they want someone who has been a department chair, that's what they want. I have run every major committee at my current institution, but that's different from running a department. And I'm sure Frustrated's friend will learn the same thing I have learned as he applies for jobs.
Doesn't seem a likely hire from my perspective, either. The biggest disqualifier at my CC wouldn't be his lack of chair experience (though such experience certainly would be a plus) but the lack of CC experience. Whole different world than a small 4-year liberal arts school. If he were hired, I think he'd have a really tough time with the faculty--zero street cred! If he's truly interested in being a CC administrator (as opposed to thinking a CC would be "easier" to break into), he should work very hard at learning about the system and even teach some classes as an adjunct.

On a somewhat related note, I've been sitting on a bunch of hiring committees recently and am amazed at the attitude of some folks who hail from 4-year schools. Some (not all, certainly! But enough that I've started to think of them as a type) seem to think that they are doing us a favor by stooping to apply with us. They apparently expect us to be very impressed with a PhD and a tenure-track position at a 4-year and seem genuinely surprised that they aren't asked back for a second interview when they focus their first on their research and barely mention teaching or students. I'm proud of working at a CC and don't feel at all defensive about it, but I have to say that attitude gets my dander all in a tizzy.
Yeah, okay, now that I see it on the screen that mixed metaphor at the end of my comment is a big bag of suck, but I can't edit it. Please invent your own, better crafted turn of phrase for "makes me mad."
Others are implying this, but he's got to finish the degree to really go anywhere in an academic affaris or provost's office. And I would say the experience managing people is absolutely critical for a deanship, but not necessarily for a provost's office or other administrative positions which are more about managing projects and budgets: building things, and so on. And what about student affairs? Our deans of students rarely have faculty line experience, some don't have Ph.D.'s, and there are a variety of entry-level jobs in student affaiars that allow you to gain experience and move up the ladder at hte same place or elsewhere.

I would advise this person to go have a conversation with an academic headhunter and/or with senior officers at his own institution to talk about these issues. Faculty colleagues can rarely give more than spotty advice. It will serve as a reality check, but also give him some concrete things to focus on.

I couldn't agree more with a couple of anonymous comments above concerning the attitude toward CCs - the arrogance is amazing.

No experience at the CC level will get you disqualified from a faculty search, say nothing of a Deanship. I know I wouldn't want some SLAC tenure-washout to be my dean -- I want (and have) someone with CC classroom experience to handle the student complaints and other issues that come up while teaching.
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