Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Ask the Administrator: Should I Run for Chair?
I am a rather new full time faculty member at a community college. I have not been here long enough to qualify to run for chairperson of my department. My dean has expressed to me that he wants me to run for this position. I love teaching and really don't feel that this is the direction I want to take right now. Further, most of my department is off contract currently and I feel that if I were elected chair, this would serve to divide the department.
Would it be wiser to to run for chair rather than refuse?
Part of me thinks that “I have not been here long enough to qualify” pretty much answers the question. Why run if you’re forbidden to win?
But assuming that the phrase is meant figuratively, I’d still advise not running.
A couple of weeks ago IHE published a piece on staffing trends in higher education in the US in which it noted that tenure-track faculty positions have declined by nine percent, and academic management positions (deans and higher) had declined by twenty percent over the last decade. The so-called “administrative bloat” wasn’t actually administrative; it was concentrated in IT, with some support in Financial Aid and student services. On the academic side, the full-time administrative ranks have declined. In practice, that tends to mean an increased number of opportunities (or burdens, depending on your preference) for the faculty who remain to pick up a course release or two by filling in some of the gaps. In the coming years, I’d expect no shortage of opportunities to step up on the administrative side without actually crossing over.
My hunch is that your dean was doing a hamhanded job of complimenting you. Some perfectly wonderful professors make awful department chairs, because the skill sets involved are so different. Chairs typically need to be even-tempered and good at finding imperfect-but-workable solutions. Some people have that profile and some don’t. I’m guessing that you do, and that your dean has noticed. Since your dean mentioned it, I’m also guessing that some of the eligible local candidates don’t have that profile. So it goes.
(One of the many banes of my existence is the department with nobody willing to chair. Since creating a brand-new full-time position for a new chair just isn’t the local reality, there’s no elegant way around this. That’s one reason why newer folk who seem grounded sometimes get recruited a little earlier than would be optimal.)
The good news is that your talents will still be there in a few years. Better, at that point you may be a more palatable choice politically within the department than you would be now, thereby making relative success more likely. Since many of the duties pretty much rely on people’s willingness to take you seriously, it’s better if you don’t come in under a perceived cloud. If you’re happy in your current role and want to solidify your standing in that role, I don’t see a downside.
Wise and worldly readers, what do you think? Should he bide time or go for it?
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.
Under the best of circumstances, being a dept chair is kind of like herding cats; worse, if your colleagues resent the timing or fact of your appointment.
I would suggest that your correspondent consider the very real possibility that ze was originally hired to become chair in the near future. Do you know where your "line" came from?
That said, our CC gets such people into various minor leadership roles where they learn about the entire college and its processes to groom people for a job that has lots of responsibility (especially for budgets) but little authority. Does your correspondent know what a "chair" does at hir CC? Ours do all of the scheduling, including interviewing and hiring adjuncts, but has essentially no role at all in hiring or evaluating the tenure track faculty.
My advice is to know what you are getting into, and what support you will have in the first year on that job.
I have seen my college do this again and again to other faculty members and we are burning out some really great teachers (at a community college, where in theory, teaching is supposed to be number one priority.) Our current academic dean is trying to remedy the situation, but it may too late for some faculty members.
My advice: have a job description and a time period. Know what you are getting into....It is true -- colleges are pushing newer and newer faculty members into positions they are not ready for.
2) I have never heard of "being chair" helping someone get tenure.
Leaders need to have a dynamic vision and force of personality to make a positive difference in this world. Be mindful of what type of leaders we create, lest we end up with nothing more than pointy-headed, mealy-mouthed, pencil pushers, who everyone likes because they don’t rock the boat.
And regarding the PunditusMaximus reply, why does it appear that tenure is such an important part of these conversations?
Tenure is a big deal because until you have it, you have no job security. They can let you go at the end of any of your annual review cycles without any consequences. Right now, the job market is piss poor (getting a new job after washing out somewhere would be difficult if not impossible) so you need to have that job security in your back pocket before doing anything that could piss off your colleagues. Good chairs inevitably piss off their colleagues.
The decision to grant you tenure is determined by a committee of senior faculty in your department, college, and school. It is based on your academic research, teaching, and service to the school - the weight of each is determined by your location and your school's mission but the bottom line is that a pretenure faculty member needs to be spending all their time trying to get tenure by polishing their skills in teaching and research and trying not to get in trouble by participating in service (because in all contexts, service is the thing that counts the least, it is a time suck beyond all imagination and it is potentially politically charged). If you get your colleagues really mad, even if your teaching and research is great they will accuse you of being uncollegial and depending on the school, this might kill your chances of getting tenure. Imagine spending 12 years training for a job that 1 in 100 applicants get, doing that job for a couple of years (after moving across the country away from your family and friends and buying a house) and then being unable to continue in it because Dr. Bigshot decides you are the devil and much be exorcized from the university.
New faculty don't need the distraction of complex political battles, the crushing minutiae of planning course schedules and room arrangements or the emotional and mental challenges of managing (often unionized) office staff or technicians (which lucky chairs have). By the time a faculty member has been somewhere for 7 or so years, they know the system, they have some contacts outside the department and can get favors from administrators and staff that they’ve worked with. Presumably, they have tenure and are not easy to get rid of because another faculty member gets mad.
This person should take the advice of doing small admin jobs for their dean or department chair and use those as a learning experience. They can play the newbie card, "I am SOOOOO honored that you asked me to do this - I mean really what a compliment - but I really want to develop my expertise a little bit more before I take on this challenge. Is there a smaller project I can start with to show you my interest in taking on more some time in the future? Wow - I'm so impressed you would even consider asking me!" etc. etc.
In other words, an untenured chair would be responsible for managing people who actually outrank him or her, who are his/her higher-ups, not just in terms of seniority but in terms of position/pay grade/etc. It is *very difficult* - if not impossible - to be a "leader," as Adam says, when you don't actually have the clout to make anyone do anything, nor the relationships to cajole people into doing anything. Basically, you'd be setting yourself up to have colleagues who hate you and/or to do a terrible job.
Thanks for the replies. This portion of Ivory's comment is amazing: "Tenure is a big deal because until you have it, you have no job security. They can let you go at the end of any of your annual review cycles without any consequences."
The overwhelming majority of people live in a world without job security, and are hired, promoted, and fired based on performance. Yes, there are instances when people are let go for political reasons, but that's just a part of life.
I'm trying to understand, and appreciate two things:
1. Why a high percentage of the discussion on this blog, regardless of the information and questions posed by Dean Dad, seems to end up with advice about tenure; and,
2. Why is appears that teachers think they should be entitled to more job security than everybody else.
Now, do teachers need "more job security than other people"? No. They don't. However, if the trade-off is not having the security of tenure, there would be an expectation of increased compensation elsewhere. Basically, tenure has been an incentive that institutions have used to give people who could very easily have moved into MUCH more lucrative careers to decide to use their talents to teach at universities and colleges. (Let's note: for more than half of the instructors at universities, that incentive has been a big fat lie.) Choosing this career path means that you're unlikely ever to get more than a 3% raise annually - and many years you'll go without raises and maybe even get furloughs or pay cuts. People who choose this path don't get to pick where they live, and getting a job often means moving thousands of miles away from any family, friends, or support network they might have - mostly at their own cost. People who become professors have, in spite of the odds, chosen a field where if you are let go prior to tenure or are given a negative tenure decision, it is not unlikely for that to be career-ending. Also, there is little mobility for those who seek to move elsewhere based on their merits - and what mobility there is would require you to move across the country again - not just to the school down the road. Obviously some of this is better or worse depending on field, but I think I'm painting a pretty accurate picture.
The vast majority of people do not attend school beyond the B.A. for 6-8 years (field depending), pick up and move across the country with no support networks to take a job in that field, take a salary *lower* than most in "industry" (most people in academia will never make 6 figures - I know of recently hired people who started somewhere in the low 40s, which is what my mom without a college degree makes in selling insurance), particularly given level of education, and entered a career with little to no mobility.
Now, you might say, "who ever would do that? what idiots!" However, the reality is that for those of us who have done it, tenure factored into that decision. So, if the order of the day is tenure - and at most colleges and universities in the United States it is, at least for some proportion of positions - then of course tenure would have to factor into any decision about whether or not to take on an administrative role where the people you're supervising ultimately have the power to fire you. It's really not that hard to understand.
But I also question the entire vision of a "dynamic leader" as a department chair at a CC. That is not the job of the department chairs at my CC, and mine is larger than most. Individual faculty are as likely as the chair to bring forth and take leadership of an innovation in the classroom. More likely, actually, in my experience. It is the chair's job to help facilitate what faculty or research groups come up with, not generate ideas for research or teaching innovation. Department chairs do not win the Nobel Prize.
Similarly, the chair (and the department as a whole) plays no, none, zero, nada role in tenure decisions at my CC. My chair never sat in my classroom, for example, but the Dean visits every year and the President visited the year of my tenure decision. This world is very different from a 4-year college or university. Publications? Anonymous @4:09AM is not talking about a CC.
I know exactly what Ivory is talking about as regards the situation at a 4-year college, where hiring and tenure are handled quite differently and are based on very different criteria. Nonetheless, the advice about possible risks is sound because this person will be less likely to offer independent advice to the Dean that will likely make the tenure decision.
But the job at a CC is still like herding cats. Probably harder, with some release time as the only reward.
Faculty members obsess about tenure because if you don't get it, you no longer qualify for a full-time teaching load (at most places) and you lose your voice and vote in departmental decisions (at most places). Not getting tenure for a tenure-track faculty member is like getting fired, thus it is important.
The person who asked about becoming department chair despite a lack of seniority mentioned being at a community college. In that case, a publication record hardly matters. Concentrate on your teaching, learning the ropes, and networking with colleagues. Don't let anyone guilt you into being chair before you feel ready to do it. And if you don't have a knack for dealing with occasionally difficult people and finding minimax solutions for problems that never have perfect solutions, avoid the job of chair forever.
In response to Adam, because the integrity of the educational system requires it. Though I agree with Dr. Crazy 100%, ultimately to my mind the only real justification for tenure is that teachers - those with expertise in specific disciplines - need to be able to control the curriculum. As history - and my personal experience - demonstrate, politicians, journalists, administrators - all those with political axes to grind - will frequently attempt to interfere with and/or determine what gets taught - always to the detriment of the students. Curriculum should not be subject to short-term political gain.
As for why tenure is important to the worker on the ground, well, imagine that there is only one job opening for your specialty in your city, but that you only really get good at it after a couple of years. Job security would be a win-win, giving you an opportunity to actually take on the work, and allowing you to get good enough to serve your institution well without fearing political pressure. Yes, most workers face summary dismissal, though not nearly all of them. And those workers (correctly) spend enormous time and energy on internal politics which could be spent elsewhere.