Monday, November 08, 2010



The retirements are nearly upon us.

My college, like so many, hired a bunch of people all at once, then relatively few for a very long time. In terms of age cohorts, it looks like a pig in a python, and the pig is getting near the end.

The dam hasn’t broken, but it’s creaking.

Looking ahead just a few years, I can see the majority of the administration changing. It’s alarming, because in many areas, there’s really nobody in the pipeline to come next.

If mine were the only college in this situation, it wouldn’t be so bad; we’d just import the talent we need and be done with it. But it’s not.

The usual pipeline for academic administrators is from department chairs or program coordinators, who themselves come from the full-time faculty. The idea is that higher ed is such an idiosyncratic creature that it wouldn’t make sense to import people directly from business or the military; they’d quickly run headfirst into what it means to manage contrarians with tenure. (I just finished Robert Sutton’s latest book, Good Boss, Bad Boss, and chuckled ruefully every time he mentioned that most of his advice is inapplicable in academe. It’s funny because it’s true. If only someone out there with decanal experience would write a book about how to be a dean. Hmm...) So we try to promote from within, to ensure that deans and their counterparts will have a personal sense of how colleges work, and of how faculty see things.

But a generation or two of adjuncting-out the faculty has left the pipeline thin. There just aren’t very many faculty here of my generation. Gen X’ers -- and even the younger Boomers -- are rare birds. Most of the faculty is either in the very early stages, or within a short shot of retirement. The middle is missing.

The “administrative farm team” argument (the official term is “succession planning”) strikes me as a very intelligent objection to the adjuncting trend, even though the opponents of the adjuncting trend tend not to use it. They should; as no less an academic unionist than Sherman Dorn has noted, competent administrators make unions’ jobs easier. (The same is true in reverse; good labor relations make my job easier.) Colleges need people to do the work that deans do; those people can have a sense of the traditional faculty outlook, or not. Better that they do.

"So we try to promote from within, to ensure that deans and their counterparts will have a personal sense of how colleges work, and of how faculty see things."

Someone looking at academia and seeing a bloated elitist self-important attitude that is oblivious to how things work in the real world and that is failing to prepare students for anything besides either becoming a professor themselves - if very lucky - or bitterly slinging hash browns for the rest of their lives would look at this statement as part of the problem.

Not that I would ever think such a thing, because I would prefer to continue to receive a paycheck for now.
Having watched my mother work in higher ed as a registrar (she is also a former HS teacher) and my own years in higher ed on the non-faculty side, I often wonder why faculty should be promoted to admin. I've seen more blunders from them than anyone from the "outside" (read: non-faculty). They can be insular and oblivious because of previous attachements to a particular field or department. (not all, of course)
I understand what you are saying but I think adjuncts and lecturers could also become good administrators - and that path is closed to them. In fact, in an adjunct that supported themself outside of academia, you would get someone with an outside perspective (who could inject some new ideas into the mix) that still had a fairly accurate view of the way teaching works at the college.
Don't worry Anon -- the GOP's gonna destroy every job in this country which isn't made of slinging hash, so even if that's how you view things, it'll work out.

Anyways, the reason people don't use that argument, DD, is that nobody is going to pay full time faculty extra so that other colleges can steal them away for administration jobs. If you want adjuncting to go down, you need an economic argument as urgent -- and whose results accrue to the college as fully -- as the budgetary concerns that you face.
At my CC the problem goes even further. The old-timers are jealously hanging on to all positions of power and responsibility so that the new hires are just super-adjuncts. It is not that they are even performing the functions they are guarding. Training new faculty? Hah!
Anonymous must never have looked at a huge business and noted the bloated elitist self-important attitude that goes with being on top in that territory, particularly if they have a degree from an elite college.

I can see your problem, DD, if your college enrollment (and thus hiring) has been stagnant for many years, but I find it hard to believe you haven't had any retirements in the last 10 years. Our college has made some excellent hires and, unlike the situation where 7:41AM Anonymous is working, is actively grooming several of them as potential department chairs and, eventually, deans. I made it a point to recommend that appointments to some major accreditation-related committees come from that group.

DD, you need to start a leadership program for new faculty, and look at every new hire with more than teaching in mind.
DD, you need to start a leadership program for new faculty, and look at every new hire with more than teaching in mind.

It's not as easy as it sounds. Suppose that there is on average one FT hire every year or two (which could be generous from the sounds of things). That would mean looking for someone who it, at least, 1) an outstanding teacher, 2) a good "fit" with the school and any departments of interest, 3) a possible candidate for future admin roles, 4) an individual dedicated to service. At a research-oriented role, the individual must also have research chops and perhaps even a proven track record of funding. And those are just the basics, leaving out geographical constraints, uncertainty and political in-fighting within departments. I'm not so surprised some schools are finding/will find it difficult to hire for administrative roles with stringent job prerequisites (adjunct->tenure track->tenure->chair->admin).

In industry, companies can (within reason) hire and fire whoever they like for particular positions, and that can be tough in itself. If extra requirements were added on top of that, I'm not sure how much would actually get accomplished. Perhaps post-secondary should consider "non-traditional" administrative hires.
JMG -- actually, it doesn't really have to be "within reason." The only real constraints are protected classes in civil rights laws.

As DD has slowly grown to understand, colleges are actually some of the most manageable large organizations. The established constituencies create a natural brake on extremely stupid decisions and will provide input on areas of interest without nearly the same level of fear of reprisal. You just have to leave behind power trips based around excitement over who one gets to fire, and grow into a sense of how good decisions actually get made in large organizations.
I didn't say it was easy, I said it needed to be done ... for exactly the reasons the comment by 7:41 Anonymous made evident.

The assumption that my CC hires only one new professor a year is quite wide of the mark. We have averaged close to double digits. Most divisions hire at least one new person a year.

Granted, we are a big CC so the number of leadership positions is commensurately greater than at a small CC, so it still remains an important consideration when hiring new faculty. We know who is retiring "soon" and their replacements need to be ready when that time arrives.

There is NO WAY that an outsider could do the job of a department chair.
Dean Dad:

I chair a department, and see another basic obstacle to administration at my institution. We have been lucky enough to be able to hire regularly, and ostensibly have people with tenure in the 40's and 50's who are qualified to enter the administrative ranks. Problem is - none of us wants to. Our administration has developed a "business-like" managerial/leadership culture (more like business-lite - I worked in a corporation before I came here, and find a lot of their assertions silly and time-wasting), which is in clear contrast to the culture that prevails in academic departments, with predictable results: lots of conflict, lots of fighting over turf. I am probably exactly the kind of person who might be a likely recruit for a dean position, and right now I would rather chew glass than be a dean.
So hire full timers, and hire them now!
Good day, Mr. President, your job is to lead the college into the future. . . . Good luck
Anonymous 10:59--You are on the mark. From what I've seen, very few people pursue advanced degrees in academic disciplines with the thought of becoming administrators. Hey, most don't even want to chair their departments: I've seen any number of chairs who've served multiple terms simply because no one else wanted the job!
Dear Community College Dean,

I think you exaggerate when I say that I repeatedly say that my advice isn't applicable to academia. I use examples, for example, of my current dean, Jim Plummer, my past dean (and now Stanford president) John Hennessy, and Joel Podolny (a former associate dean at the Stanford Business School and now who is dean of Apple University). All three of these splendid bosses impressed me with their blend of competence and compassion, and it is interesting that all three have traveled successfully between academia and the so-called real world. Jim Plummer is on Intel's board, John Hennessy has helped to start two companies, and Joel is now at Apple. So although I may have cracked an occasional joke about academia, I think there are more similarities than differences. Also, the best book I know about how to be an academic administrator is written by CK Gunsalus, it is here:

Dont miss the cover photo!


Bob Sutton
I will defend this spring and am currently on the job market (again) with very little hope. I have also done a ridiculous amount of university service for a graduate student (6 intense years worth at all levels available to me) and not only do I truly enjoy it but I have also been told by multiple deans and the assistant provost that I have a knack for it. I love teaching and my research, but I'm one of those odd ducks who can see myself happily becoming an administrator down the line.

While I wouldn't be a short-term solution to anyone's need for a tenured prof turned administrator, I certainly would be a good candidate for junior membership on that farm team. How in the world do I go about selling that fact to potential employers without getting shrugged off by departmental hiring committees who see my service work as a lack of commitment to my research and thus not worth considering?
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