Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Ask the Administrator: Am I Selling Out?

A returning correspondent writes:

Well, here I am having just completed my first year as a tenure track faculty member at a community college and excited for next year. I've accomplished a lot last year and I had a very positive first year review (thanks for the help on writing my tenure plan last year, by the way, and thanks to your readers too!). I feel like I'm ready to have another good year but I figured that since you've given such good advice in the past I might be due for a check-up.

Right now I feel like my teaching is in a great place so let's assume, for the sake of the argument, I can anticipate receiving somewhat similar feedback this year and that I should basically keep on doing what I'm doing insofar as teaching is concerned.

As I teach at a CC we're asked to make departmental and college-wide service parts of our tenure plan. I've been doing that through my involvement in one fairly time consuming college committee for which I am our division's representative. The committee has a high but negative profile (I call it the Death Star Committee just to keep things fun for me) .

I'm also on a few very occasional departmental committees of which the meeting commitment is extremely manageable (like one hour per semester). I also now have a release time position.

All this being said, the number of activities that I am involved in and the types of activities and jobs that I have in make me somewhat anomalous as among my fellow newer faculty members. This is nothing new. In all earlier career incarnations and in grad school I was an extremely organized, hard working, and cheerful person who is good at meeting deadlines. I feel like this makes me sound like a smug jerk but I don't think I come across this way in person, I hope. Also, I have no children and not even a pet and my partner is also a first born, type A like myself so we tend to work hard and then take fun and relaxing vacations. I don't want to sound like I'm a total slave to work. I even *gasp* make time to see friends and family. are my questions

1. I don't feel like I'm headed for burnout and I don't feel at all overwhelmed by my responsibilities--busy, yes, but overwhelmed, absolutely not--but I feel a little bit uncomfortable about what I'm doing and how much I'm doing. Is it wrong, politically, to work at a level of work productivity which is different than your fellow faculty? Could this cause alienation and isolation for me down the road? How best to negotiate this issue or am I being paranoid here?

2. Given what you've heard of my responsibilities do you think I'm working too hard? (This question stems from a paranoid reading of the Chronicle's career discussion boards regarding "Setting Boundaries",40252.0.html. Apparently I am doing the exact opposite of all the chronicle participants' wisdom)

3. I have long term goals of working in academic administration. Any ideas on how to be productive on the Death Star Committee and maintain a positive working relationship with administrators and possibly even seek out an administrative mentor in a climate in which faculty are somewhat skeptical (I'm putting this politely) about campus administration?

I swear I didn't make this up.

How much work is too much will vary from person to person, and over time. It sounds like you're in a spot right now where you're comfortable going the extra mile. As long as you're happy with your life, and you're keeping up the communication with your partner to make sure that you're okay with what's going on there, I don't see a problem. (Communication is huge. In its absence, it's easy to assume for a while that no news is good news, until, abruptly, it's very bad.)

I think every campus has a version of the Death Star Committee. (Some have several.) If yours is anything like the ones I've seen elsewhere, there's lots of posturing and indignation, and some very strong and entrenched personalities.

My advice in that kind of setting is to play for the long term. The Masters of Indignation think from short-term battle to short-term battle, using their long memories mostly to store grudges. (Judging by your reference to the faculty-administration divide, I'll guess this is pretty close to true for yours too.) They can be very good at winning individual battles, but when push comes to shove, they often have no concept of the big picture. That's where you can make a meaningful contribution, and where you can mark yourself as someone with a higher ceiling than the Death Star Committee.

Don't get involved in the nasty personal bickering. Stay above the long-simmering political conflicts, and don't worry about those who think less of you for it. (This can be difficult when it's directed at you. I have to remind myself of that from time to time.) Instead, be the one who offers constructive, win-win solutions. Or, when that's not possible, be the one to keep people focused on the good of the whole. And whatever you do – this is as close to a golden rule as I'll give – don't play the indignation game. It suggests inflexibility, which is a fatal flaw in a manager. Be judicious showing emotion in meetings generally, but ban indignation from your repertoire. I'd rather see crying or anger or even belittling sarcasm – none of which is good – than indignation.

At Proprietary U, I was first noticed for management when a colleague pointed out to my dean that I was one of the few faculty who didn't get conspicuously frazzled at the end of the semester. (I just knew all that emotional repression would come in handy someday!) At my cc, a now-retired professor became the unofficial Campus Sage by being the one who could see past conflicts and around corners. She became the go-to person for chairing administrative searches, self-studies, and ad hoc committees, even though she never chose to go into administration herself. She managed to command the respect of both faculty and administration, even when neither was especially fond of the other. She was one of my favorite people here, and her retirement left a gap that still hasn't been filled.

(In a way, her universal belovedness was probably, in part, due to the fact that she never crossed over. If you do cross over, there will be times you will have to make decisions that will make some people mad at you. Others will be mad at you by association. It comes with the gig.)

In terms of finding a mentor, I don't know of an easy rule. Some go by the 'demographic identity' rule, but sharing a gender or race with someone doesn't necessarily make you a match. (In my case, the person on campus I learn the most from shares neither my gender nor my race, so there you go.) If you can find someone who remains interesting after more than, say, six months, you've got a keeper.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – your thoughts? Any advice on finding mentors?

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

I started as a faculty member with aspirtations of administration and, like you, had some pride and willingness to work. I eventually made it to VP and owe it to those early years of trying to improve myself through professional development and volunteering for committees no one else wanted.

If you want to move toward administration, the ONLY way to do that is to distinguish yourself from your peers! And sadly, that often means going above and beyond what others are willing to do. Why would I promote someone who does the bare minimum? Not gonna happen!

All of this is to say that if a faculty member loves his/her job and doesn't want administrative dutues, that's OK. They shouldn't castigate you for wanting to move up, just as you shouldn't castigate them for wanting to stay in the classroom. Our school has an instructor who came from the "real world" and laughs at me for wanting to move to a presidency. She says "I've got it made. You let me do what I love, you leave me alone, and I have time for my children." In a lot of ways, I envy her and miss those days in the classroom.

Teaching, it's a great gig!
My only caution would be to avoid expecting everyone to work as hard as you when you do become an administrator. Remember you went above and beyond - not everyone has the time or the inclination (or the life circumstances) that allow that. It doesn't mean they're not doing their job.

One of the reasons some "over-achievers" get flack is because of their scorn for those who can't maintain the same level of work. If you are conscientious but not contemptuous you should do just fine.
I'm trying to clarify expectations with lots of cc's to my dean. I got a course release and reassignment, but my dept head doesn't take that into consideration, well, I'm looking like I'm slacking to the person who supposedly got all this time/work from me.

This fall I actually have an overload with a new course and I got an email yesterday from the reassignment person -- let's meet and plan your fall work. I just wrote back and said that's down to one credit in the spring, sorry.

And still my dept head called me over the weekend since she still thinks I don't have enough credits yet.
Sometimes "going above and beyond" is a low bar at an R1 university. In my experience, if you demonstrate that you can:

- actually show up for meetings regularly
- meet deadlines
- assume responsibility and deliver on it

You are already on track to become an administrator. On my campus, I like to think we do a pretty good job, and the pool is largely self selecting, as 95% of faculty cannot or will not do the above. It won't help get tenure, but post-tenure, as long as you can keep up with the teaching and/or research expectations, you are on the right trajectory.

I'm a part-time admin (direct a graduate program) and most of the praise people have had for my work can be boiled down to "don't lose track of stuff" and "deliver on your commitments."
Just wanted to say thanks for the help, folks. I've gotten some great advice today. I'll definitely try to apply it to my work as the next academic year gets ready to start up.
Whatever you do, just make sure that all anyone can say is that you are better than they are. Don't instigate envy or scorn, don't try too hard to be liked. Don't talk behind anyone's back or be heard gossiping. Be above reproach.

I watched my mother do this as well as my dad. Their employees loved them and would go to great lengths to help my parents when they needed "the team" to help them-- when my mom needed one of her single mother secretaries to help her, she offered her my baby sitting services and I was happy to help. Be conscientious of your people, and they will go to the end of the world for you.

Of course I am just a mother and a college student, but I do know what I grew up watching.
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