Tuesday, December 14, 2010


This Year's Market Indicator

Over the past year, my college has advertised for both tenure-track faculty positions and administrative positions. (More of the former than the latter.) The tenure-track faculty applicant pools, unsurprisingly, have been large and deep, with no shortage of very qualified people. The challenge for the search committees has been to discern relative degrees of excellence.

The administrative applicant pools, by contrast, have been markedly thin. After filtering out the clearly underqualified, we were left in the single digits.


If administrators were as wildly overpaid as some like to claim, I’d imagine the ratios would be reversed. That hasn’t happened. I won’t deny that some folks at elite places make staggering sums, but at my cc and at every other cc in my state, this is simply not the case.

People with longer histories here tell me that administrative searches weren’t always so difficult. Ten years ago, administrative postings generated floods of quality applications. Now, not.

I’m guessing the cause is a combination of things.

The most basic is the lack of a pipeline. With so few associate professors running around, the pool of potential applicants is simply smaller than it once was. A faculty hiring shortage eventually led to an administrative candidate shortage.

The housing market is probably also at play. Many of the people far enough along in their careers to be credible applicants own their homes; in this market, you don’t sell unless you absolutely have to. Yes, some folks rent, and there are some local-ish applicants, but the housing market may be exerting some serious drag. (The same would be less likely to apply on the faculty side, since folks fresh out of grad school don’t usually own their homes.) I’d guess there’s less job-hopping when making the leap requires taking a serious loss.

There’s also the ongoing cultural taboo against “crossing over to the dark side,” though I think that taboo predates the last few years. (Notably, many of the same people who resort to “dark side” rhetoric with the most vigor are also the first to complain about administrators coming from outside the faculty ranks, yet they rarely notice the contradiction.)

At some level, though, I wonder if part of the issue is a growing sense -- largely correct -- that succeeding in these roles is getting objectively harder. Resource constraints are far worse than they were even a few years ago, and that doesn’t look likely to change anytime soon. (I get periodic emails soliciting applications for positions in California; I delete them unread. No way am I going to board that sinking ship.) When your first task in your new administrative role is to cut budgets, you’ll have a rough time lasting.

With more no-win decisions to be made, there’s also more litigation to be endured. Since our judicial system has yet to embrace the fundamental fairness of “loser pays,” there’s little incentive to forego retaliatory lawsuits when someone doesn’t like an outcome. Labor relations are always hard when budgets are tight; walking right into a flurry of grievances is no fun. And as bad as regular budget cuts are, midyear budget cuts are inexcusably brutal. Walk into that propeller once, and you will go out of your way to avoid it thereafter.

There’s also increasing external pressure to do things that internal constituencies simply don’t want done, like outcomes assessment. Every time a college replaces operating funding with grant funding, it takes on a new set of reporting requirements and criteria, and a new set of judges for whom to perform. I tolerate rubrics, but have never developed a love for them.

I don’t think it’s anything terribly specific to my college, since it’s pretty well respected in its niche. And its geographic location hasn’t changed in the last ten years, so I hesitate to blame geography.

Wise and worldly readers, have you seen anything similar on your campus? Any contributions to a general theory of administrative candidate shortages?

For the last few years I thought I wanted to be a dean. I've been teaching philosophy at a CC for several years, I've been department chair for three or four and I just finished my Ph.D. (yes, while teaching a 5/5).

Turns out, I don't want the hassles. Also, it turns out that, with the pay bump for summer teaching and department chair duties, my pay would only increase about $5,000 per year -- just enough to put me in another tax bracket.... so, the math isn't good. I should give up winter break, 6 weeks off in the summer and control of my schedule for that? I think not - so, I didn't apply for a dean position that would have been a good fit.
In my field (communications and marketing) there are some people who look qualified from outside of academia but one of four things happen.

1. They think they should be paid more than is possible.
2. They don't get the constraints of working in a state/union system and make a fatal error.
3. They don't get academic culture and either make a fatal error or flail around like a bull in a china shop until someone puts them out of their misery.
4. Academic culture drives them crazy and they leave of their own accord.
Yeah. There are certainly plenty of challenges in your job: lean budgets, an entrenched workforce, clients with constraints and deficiencies, little political support, ... and the list goes on.

Still, every job has good and bad parts. It's hard to get paid to do just fun stuff; those things tend to get done for free.

What's the good part of your job?
Let me throw this possibility out there, based on what I've seen in administrative searches at my place. I don't think that there is actually a shortage of people who have qualifications or potential to build qualifications to work in administration. I DO think, however, that individual institutions imagine administrative positions in very specific ways that may not have much in common with the way that other institutions imagine the same positions. And I think that all the baggage that people on a campus bring to an administrative search doesn't bode well for candidates who don't understand that baggage or have a deep and clear sense of the institutional history that produces that baggage. So, it's not that so many un- or under-qualified people apply for admin positions at my place: it's that there's no way from the ad that people applying can know the agenda of all the different players (faculty, administration, office staff, students) who play a role in that decision.

Add to this the fact that it is much more difficult today than it was 10 years ago at many institutions to work ones way up into administration at one's home institution (at my place they don't even want dept. chairs to come from within anymore, and let's not even get started on the expectations for people in offices higher up), and yep, fewer professors are going to throw their hats into the ring for administrative positions.

As I wrote over at my place a while ago, my complete antipathy to moving into administration has nothing to do with thinking it's the "dark side," as you so often like to suggest is the underlying motivation of faculty who resist administrative roles. And I don't think that's the issue with most people who aren't interested. I think it's that most people who went and got PhDs in a particular field did it because they really wanted to teach and to do research. Service is the part of their job that they find most tiresome. It's not crossing over to the "dark side" to go into administration, but that doesn't mean it sounds like any fun. So why would I trade in my job that is TONS of fun, EVERY SINGLE DAY for a job with constant meetings, bitching, and stress? And a 12-month contract? No amount of money in the world is worth it, and I think a lot of people feel the same way. It's not the dark side. It just sucks.
Another thought - there is a ton of talent in the pool of non-tenure faculty out there, and many NTF folks would be willing to take on admin jobs. But you can't get there from here, in most cases.

It is understandable, from a historical perspective, that admins have tended to come up through the (tenure) faculty ranks. It is also understandable, from a structural perspective, that having tenure allows admins to make difficult decisions while knowing that they have a safety net or backstop.

But as the percentage of tenure/non-tenure lines changes and non-tenure folks become ever-more embedded in the system, perhaps all of this needs re-thinking. In a lot of places, "temporary" adjuncts of the past are now "permanent faculty" (albeit on successive short-term contracts) with a lot of depth and knowledge of local cultures and conditions.

I say this as someone who has had a full time, non-tenure job in the same department for 10 years. I have been here longer than 1/3 to 1/2 of my (tenure-track) departmental colleagues, and a good number of our administrators. As much as I LOVE teaching, I would move to the administrative side if I could, but my non-tenure status makes that practically impossible at my school.
In the last couple of years my university has hired a president, a provost, an AVP for academic affairs, and a couple of other high-profile administrative positions. All of these hires came from outside the campus. In most cases, the pool was rather shallow (partly) because of the way the job descriptions were written.

It was not the case that the jobs were written with specific people in mind (not at all), but when cobbling together a job description by committee and to please multiple constituencies, one sometimes ends up with a position description that very, very few people in academia are actually likely to match.
I agree with much of what Dr. Crazy states.

Although I'm young yet for contemplating a move to admin, I have some experiences that suggest to me that I could be good at it and that I like that type of work.

However, given what admin actually has to do, and what you have to be willing to put up with, including regular personal attacks, there is no way I would make a move to the "dark side" without getting paid a lot more than our admins do now.
I also thought about making a move to a job in administration but once I found out the details gave up the thought entirely. As leftyconcarne said, I would have a 12 month contract so no summer or winter break and with less scheduling flexibility. And the real kicker - if I made the move at my CC I would actually make LESS than I do with my standard salary with two overloads. More stress, more workdays, more restictions, and less money. No way am I doing that even if the job does appeal to me and I believe I have the personality to succeed in such a position. I'm also really good at teaching and so I will just stick with that!
The administrative side is filled with politics, boring numbers, much longer work days and usually no summers off. Simply said, administration is more work for not much more money.
It's worth saying that, as difficult as we agree it would be to an administrator (Work twelve months a year? The horror!) it's a job that has to be done, and can be done well or done poorly. Having read DD for several years now, I strongly suspect that he's one of the good ones, and that most of the sensible faculty at his CC are glad to have him. I can certainly name some administrators on my campus that fall into that category. So three cheers for those who do have the skills to do those jobs, so we faculty can pursue our true callings, teaching, research, and griping about dumb administrators.
As FT staff at a public U and previously at private U, can I say that ALL staff would love to get summers off, spring break off, etc and the pay that faculty received. Staff are often just as chronically underpaid as faculty.

My actual comment relates to DD's mention of the pipeline. It seems to me that the it might be a needs vs wants issues. You WANT someone from faculty arena. However, it could be that you NEED someone from other areas of higher ed or outside altogether. Of course, there are downsides to going outside of faculty. But finding the master cat herder of a dean might not always be possible from the faculty side of the house. Accept it as a possibility instead of a liability.
DD, thanks for the inspirational comments - they express exactly how I feel too. I just forwarded this to the rest of the Deans at our CC.
"If administrators were as wildly overpaid as some like to claim, I’d imagine the ratios would be reversed."

I've said it before but I think I need to say it again: Comments really need to state whether they are based on experience in the 2 year or 4 year or R1 world.

At my CC, the relatively small pay bump up to the Dean and Provost level could very well discourage people from taking on those duties. (But maybe more or less - depending on just how healthy and mutually supportive the previous Dean-faculty relationship was.) However, even here, faculty find it disturbing when the President is given major raises at a time when everyone (staff and faculty) are working harder without any raise. In addition, there is little admin bloat except in areas where questionable grant initiatives appear and might end up in our base budget.

The world of the R1 (and 4-year MA schools in the wannabe group) is quite different. Even there the discussion is as much about the rapid growth of various layers of administration as about the pay of the top levels, although many question the pay of the various assistant vice teetotums that used to be faculty members. It is bad enough that the mid levels make a lot of money. What complicates that situation is that they are often part of the mechanisms that also push faculty out of the classroom to feed the research machine, to be replaced with various contract instructors (some full time but without tenure). It is no accident that the original joke about Administratium mentioned mass increase with each 3-year reorganization.
Things like this crack me up. Work 12 months out of the year? Welcome to the real world!
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I am a part-time administrator full-time faculty member at a public research-intensive R1. One factor I have seen, that may be unique to R1s, is the ability to maintain an active funded research program while simultaneously being that vice associate whatever. In the world of some (many?) our faculty, if you stop being an active funded researcher, you have lost your "street cred." And possibly hit a glass ceiling at administrative advancement.

So while we have a somewhat decent pool of potential administrators, some like me do it part-time (like associate chairs) and realize "they want me to work full-time, overtime on administrative stuff AND keep my active research lab running?" For many it is simply not worth the effort. It certainly pays better to focus that time and effort bringing in larger research dollars, if you look at our highest paid faculty.
An interesting perspective. At the for-profit school where I teach, we rarely have difficulty attracting credentialed applications, although most of those folks are terrible management material. Our last department dean opening had dozens of applicants and was narrowed to two out-of-house and two in-house prospects after months of interviewing. The new director is a talented musician (we’re a music school) who believes every wheel must be reinvented and that every existing system is incompetent.

I give him about a year to crash and burn. He’s lost all faculty support and is heading toward the end of his branch without looking back to see if anyone is following.

Management appears to be a skill that is vanishing (while never particularly strong) in the US. I have always believed that those who want that sort of job shouldn’t be allowed to have the position. Real management is complicated, technically demanding, and the rewards tend to go to the people who did the work; not the ones who oversaw work being done. Anyone who desperately wants that sort of job probably doesn’t understand the requirements or is primed to abuse the system and the employees.

In our institution, everyone (without exception) who has taken on the job of managing a department out of obligation to the school’s mission and the department’s best interests has burned out and been knifed in the back by the school ownership. Any applicant smart enough to do the job well is probably smart enough to see the signs of incompetence and corruption in the folks conducting the interview.
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