Tuesday, June 24, 2008

 

Ask the Administrator: The Tap on the Shoulder

A rising young correspondent writes:

I am a newish faculty member at a large
community college. During a recent interview, I made a positive impression
on our division's Vice Chancellor, and he has decided to groom me for a dean
position that he plans to create in the next year or two. Of course, I
wasn't sure he was serious at first, but after a long conversation with him
a few days ago it seems this is not a cruel hoax. If everything goes well
and I get this position, I will be the youngest dean on campus and will have
been promoted to my boss's boss's job.

O I have so many questions. Here are a few:
1. The V.C. says this is not a secret; furthermore, his "grooming" plans
will eventually be obvious to my program coordinator and department chair.
Still, should I tell them up front the future dean position? Will it sound
as if I am suffering from delusions of grandeur?
2. I have many professional friendships with faculty here. Should I tell
them about this turn of events now or later?
3. Are there any pitfalls to being a new dean (or to the deanship grooming
process) that I could avoid with some advance warning?


First, congratulations on the faculty job! Next, a few thoughts.

I'd be wary of someone offering to leap you several levels so abruptly. People who make strange decisions on a dime often change them on another one, so even if he's sincere right now, he may get distracted by a shiny object next month and that's that. And I absolutely would NOT go around telling all and sundry that you've been promised a much higher-level job that doesn't exist yet. (Among other reasons, jobs like that are supposed to be advertised, and subject to open searches. Even if he were consistent, he couldn't actually promise that you'd win an open search.)

Instead, I'd re-frame the discussion as an opportunity for faculty/leadership development.

Although I don't buy into the cult of seniority nearly as much as many academics seem to, I do believe that some experience beats no experience. (My difference with the Seniority Squad has to do with how we envision the payoff to experience over time. They think it's linear, or even exponential. I think it plateaus relatively early, and can even turn negative eventually. But we agree on the first few years.) Going directly from 'new faculty' to 'dean' is quite a leap, and you'd arrive in the new office with very little sense of the jobs of the people who report to you. Unless you're either preternaturally talented or really, really lucky, you'll make some basic and costly mistakes that a little more experience (or exposure, if you prefer) would have prevented.

For example, fielding student complaints about other people is very different than fielding students complaints about you. You know what you did or didn't do; that won't be the case when the complaint is about someone else. What do you do when a student storms in and complains that "Professor so-and-so is biased"? Or that she doesn't return papers, or doesn't show up for class, or says demeaning things? And what do you do if Professor so-and-so refuses even to address the charge, responding instead with insinuations that The Administration (cue ominous music) is simply out to get her and everybody who looks like her?

Or, what do you do when a department chair refuses to add sections of a popular class – despite all existing sections being full, and despite a very real budget problem at your college – on the grounds that "it's hard to find good daytime adjuncts"? (I've had them say this six months in advance.) If you've chaired a department, or otherwise been responsible for hiring adjuncts, you'll have a good idea of the relative truth of that. ("Gee, I always managed..." has a way of changing the conversation.) If not, you'll have a harder time.

The tap on the shoulder is a good thing. It's a recognition that you have the talent and temperament to deal with some of the issues that plenty of otherwise brilliant people just don't handle well. But jumping multiple levels at one time can actually set you up for failure, even if unintentionally.

My advice is to express gratitude for his confidence in you, and interest in preparing yourself for possible future administrative opportunities, whatever those might be. Then take on a lower-level assignment to get some experience (and maybe some course release), and cadge some travel funding for a relevant conference or two. (The AAC&U, the AACC, and the League for Innovation all offer worthwhile options.) Get some exposure and some experience, so you'll be prepared not just to get a job, but to succeed at it. It may take a little longer upfront, but you'll be setting yourself up for more success, and more opportunities, over time.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – what do you think?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

Comments:
the first bit of advice is make sure you have the right of retreat back to your faculty position with tenure.

Otherwise you are burning your bridges
 
What DD said, 100%.

I'm not sure what "newish" means in this context--one year is very different from five years in this context. I made the transition after about 10 years, and I wouldn't have wanted to make it too much sooner. In the first couple of years the admin learning curve is really, really steep--far more so than it is for a new faculty member. Every single day you will get hit by something that you have never heard of and have no instant idea how to handle. What will get you through that period is your relationships with the people you work with, those that you supervise and those who supervise you. In addition, in my experience academic deans who haven't had a good dose of being a FT faculty member will get less respect from the faculty. (Not so true for positions that don't directly supervise faculty, like a dean of research or something.)

So--I would prepare yourself for a cross over to the dark side by serving on committees, serving as chair if you get the chance, and getting to know as many folks as you can around campus. If you're given an assignment, do it well and do it on time. Show yourself to be someone who can keep your temper and be fair and reasonable.

And be prepared to have people dislike you no matter what. As a colleague of mine says, "You're not really a dean until someone you've gone out of your way to help hates you intensely, for no good reason and for an extended period of time, and tells everyone within hearing range what a dumbass you are."
 
I don't teach at a community college, so perhaps I am missing something about how adminstrative hires are accomplished, but I can't imagine something like this happening (seriously) at my four-year regional. As DD point out, most if not all administrative positions are supposed to be filled by a search. I've seen some internal searches at my institution, with everyone assuming that one particular person would make the best candidate, but I don't think I've ever seen a higher administrator tap someone on the shoulder for a position that doesn't exist and won't exist for a couple of years. Sounds hinky and maybe corrupt. Also, do you have any administrative experience at all? Have you run anything? If not, sounds even hinkier.

Finally (and cynically), continue to curry favor with this individual, but I would in no circumstances talk about this with your colleagues or your bosses. I do think you would come across as having delusions of grandeur, and a certain amount of jealousy could make your work life miserable, especially if you are newish. And what if it doesn't all come to pass? You don't want to have egg on your face.
 
It could just be the lack of context inherent in an anonymized story, but I'm bothered by several things in the communication you got.

If the new position is "not a secret", then the writer should know exactly what is in the works - but did not mention it or allude to what is changing in the note you quoted.

The teaser from above concerns a "dean position that he plans to create in a year or so", yet the writer talks as if he will be promoted to the "boss's boss's job". Since this person's dean has a job that already exists, there is a delusion of grandeur in thinking it will be that sort of job rather than something with lots of title but little portfolio.

It would seem more likely to be a job as "dean of learning" than a planned split of the current Dean's job into two, but the latter is possible at a really huge CC. But a really huge CC where this probably happens a lot (e.g. Miami Dade with 160,000 students on 8 campuses) would have open search procedures for any major academic post, as others noted.

If this is the case, the grooming process will involve the sorts of things DD and others mentioned. It could also mean chairing some major committee (accreditation, planning for a new initiative that will need a new dean) where your performance will determine whether you make the short list or not.

In addition to the things DD and others mentioned, I'd recommend learning more about exactly how your college is run (internal details) whenever you get a chance to be exposed to the admin operation.

Whatever you do, don't tell anyone anything and don't give up tenure. Remember, the V.C. who talked to you could be starting the initiative just to look good for a better job, and might leave in six months. Then someone else will be deciding who to hire.
 
Justification for APA Resolution on Ageism

Relevance to Psychology and Psychologists and Importance to Psychology or to Society as a Whole

"Ageism" is a term developed by Robert Butler (the first director of the National Institute on Aging) in 1969 and is defined as "a systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old" (Achenbaum, 1985). Ageism exists on many levels, from:

1. discriminatory attitudes toward older adults;
2. discriminatory behaviors against older adults;
3. prejudicial comments and poor treatment by service providers; and
4. discrimination of older adults by institutionalized practices and policies, such as mandatory retirement and age-based promotions and raises (Cavanaugh, 1993). In fact, there is evidence that older adults often do not perform well partly due to personally held beliefs that because of their age, they cannot perform well (Rodeheaver, 1990).

There are many negative stereotypes dealing with the psychological functioning of older adults (Zarit, 1980) and often complaints such as anxiety, tremors, fatigue, confusion, and irritability are frequently attributed to "old age" without sufficient assessment (Goldstein, 1985; Edelstein & Kalish, 2000). There are also positive stereotypes that deny real psychological changes that occur during adult development, e.g., "Aging is just a state of mind." (Cherry & Smith, 1998; Gatz & Pearson, 1988).

Quality and Quantity of Psychological Data and Conceptualization Relevant to it

Psychologists are well equipped to address both the prevalence and impact of ageism on individuals and our society. Psychologists as researchers have already provided evidence of the impact of ageism on psychological assessment (Edelstein & Kalish) and treatment of older adults (Zarit, 1980). Psychologists as educators and researchers provide the research base necessary to promote accurate information about psychological aging. Psychologists as practitioners can use this research base and expertise to provide the mental health services that older individuals need. The recent development of APA's proficiency in Geropsychology attests to the discipline's understanding of the importance of accurate knowledge about aging in providing services to older adults. And psychology has the responsibility to help ensure that all individuals, regardless of their age, have access to these critical services.

In addition, the association has been actively involved in advocating on behalf of older adults. APA has been a part of several coalitions that have advocated on issues of aging and has been a strong advocate of increased funding for research on aging. The Division on Adult Development and Aging (Division 20) has also been actively involved in promoting knowledge about age and against ageism.

Likely Degree of Consensus

Consensus on this resolution from all sections of APA is likely. APA has had a history of being concerned about the well being of older adults through Division 20, through its many publications on aging, through its primary journal, Psychology and Aging, and through its efforts in promoting public policies dealing with aging. The association already has policy resolutions dealing with discrimination on the basis of ethnic minority status, sex, and social class. It now needs a similar policy for discrimination on the basis of adult age.

Likelihood of the Resolution Having a Constructive Impact on Public Opinion or Policy

Many of the stereotypes associated with older adults are based on behavioral factors. APA can take a leadership role in providing accurate information about advancing age to reduce stereotypes and to eliminate decision making based on faulty information about the aging process.
 
Also, you really don't know how many others this person may have 'in line' for the job -- it is quite possible that they have a few favorites in different departments ---

Also, if you are new I'd really watch out -- unless you are quite different from the rest (perhaps you have a couple of PhDs while most other faculty are MAs), this person may see you as someone they can 'groom' -- which is code for control. If you decide not to follow their 'lead' on something, you could be out -- or miserable...
 
I'm wondering if this sort of meteoric rise might become its own limitation. Having sat on numerous search committees for academic administrators, I have the impression that committees tend to be skeptical about candidates who have skipped an obvious step (like being a department chair) or have moved extremely fast through the ranks. The worry is that these people, as bright, ambitious, and capable as they may be, won't have the "seasoning" to thrive in an even more challenging position. So even if you are able to make this move successfully at your current institution, you might find your options compromised later if you wanted to go elsewhere.
 
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