Sunday, July 01, 2012

 

Ask the Administrator: Is a Directorship a Dead End?

A new correspondent writes:

Vitals > Ph.D., English/literature; associate professor at community college; eight months from tenure; 45 years-old Past careers > various corporate and government experience (16 years), much of it as a manager or department director. I've served as an interim administrator in a writing program. Current work > full-time teaching, coordinator of academic advising, coordinator of special projects (advising, student services programming). "Director of Academic Advising" is the job title that would truly reflect the work I do as a fac coordinator, an admin position that has been on hold due to budget/dept re-org for two years. Career goals > assistant dean (student affairs/services) in three+ years; I would like to end career as a dean or vice president -- at this time, remaining in the community college system is appealing. Personal > moving to NYC in three or so years, need to be marketable. I've sent out a few apps to dip my toe in, haven't garnered any interviews for student services/affairs jobs. I could also stay here and commute by train, but a job in NYC metro area/northern NJ is a saner option. Situation/THE BIG QUESTION > anticipate no openings for at least 10+ years at the assistant dean level at current CC (everyone is about my age and people tend to stay forever and ever). I've been offered the position of director of transfer services  -- I like the work of the position and am (I think) prepared to take it on. But, I don't know if a director position is a "step down" from the direction I want to move OR if it's a first and good step toward my goals. I'm not worried about a prestigious job title, I want to make a smart move in looking to be on the market in several years. I know 45 isn't "old," or so I'm told, but I'm terrified of making a mistake that derails my plans/mobility. Etc > salary would work out, though I'll need to teach one course a semester. I can return to current faculty position at any time. I worked 8am-5pm for almost two decades prior to college, I do worry about losing my (relative) freedom but usually put in 70 hours+ with grading; I actually find the life of a faculty member lonely and often miss the daily office environ. But still . . . Misc Rambling > I always thought I'd be an academic dean (and I probably would be within two years at my current place, I'm an "heir apparent") and it's been tough to admit that my passions now lie elsewhere. I thought I'd be delirious with joy when I accomplished faculty promo, tenure, and had an academic dean job on the horizon . . . ah, the ironies of life!


I’ll start by acknowledging that context matters -- which is to say, any given college may or may not fit industry norms.  And kudos on being willing to admit when your interests have shitfted; that isn’t always easy, especially when in a setting where nobody else’s have.  

It sounds like you’re in a pretty good spot, actually.  For many of us, making the jump from full-time faculty into administration involved choosing to work without a safety net.  You mention having the option of returning to teaching any time you want to, which is a great and rare luxury.  That takes a lot of the downside risk out of trying.

“Director” positions don’t have to be dead ends.  They’re typically one step “below” an associate dean or a dean -- on my campus, we don’t have associate deans -- and they usually have narrower scopes of control.  (For example, an admissions director might report to a dean of students or a vice president for student affairs.)  

In your case, since you’re coming from the faculty side but your ambitions are on the student affairs side, you’ll have to work to overcome suspicions that you’re “settling,” or that you were moved as an alternative to being fired.  (It’s been known to happen.)  Accepting and working well at a role like “director of transfer” could give you that credibility, as well as the direct experience that could give you a more informed perspective when you do start moving up the ladder, which may well involve changing institutions.  Although your direct work will be mostly with the more academic side of student affairs, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with folks in admissions, financial aid, and the like.  That kind of exposure is very difficult to get on a sustained basis from the academic side of the college.  Take advantage of it; you’ll need it to be effective in a deanship later.

After all, if it turns out to be a mistake, you can always move back.  That’s a real plus.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, what do you think?  Is this a workable plan, or is she setting herself up to be marooned?

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

Comments:
Here's my advice for the correspondent: paragraphs. Seriously. Learn what they are. Love them. Use them.
 
Use them to your advantage!
 
Please, let me agree with the first Anonymous poster. Paragraphs. Without them the person's vitals are, frankly, unreadable.
 
Maybe the correspondent is the reincarnation of James Joyce?

Seriously, would the correspondent accept such horribly written and formatted garbage from his/her students?
 
Letting the paragraphing thing go for the moment, I was confused about a number of things in the letter, and those points of confusion make it difficult to give advice.

1) Is the correspondent *already* tenured, having possessed tenure for eight months (which would seem like a very, very weird-time-line), or are promotion and tenure unlinked at this institution, meaning that the correspondent is just going up for tenure this fall, with the expectation that he/she would receive it in the spring?

2) I find it difficult to believe that a faculty member teaching a full course load would be directing advising for the entire institution, but that is how the correspondent makes it sound. Is that the case, or is the correspondent merely coordinating advising for his/her department and coordinating some student events, which, frankly, sounds like pretty typical faculty service to me and nothing terribly special.

3) Others might be better able to speak to this than I am, but it strikes me that the goal of a) moving to NYC and b) also moving up the administrative ladder, might be more difficult than the correspondent thinks. Particularly in a student affairs position without student affairs qualifications. At my institution we would not consider a PhD in English qualified for the student affairs side of administration.

4) I'm confused about how one would be eligible to be an academic dean in just two years if one were that recently tenured - or not yet tenured (a) and not fully promoted (b). That, at least in my experience, would be a very unlikely scenario.

Perhaps if the original correspondent could clarify some of these things people would stop commenting on his or her lamentable writing choices and start responding to his/her questions?
 
To the above excellent observations, let me wonder, how does one know today that a move to NY City is coming in 3 years? Especially, how does one know that at age 45?

Has DD been punked?
 
If so, then he's been punked by someone who has no idea what the Enter key is or how to use it.
 
A new correspondent writes:

Vitals > Ph.D., English/literature; associate professor at community college; eight months from tenure; 45 years-old

Past careers > various corporate and government experience (16 years), much of it as a manager or department director. I've served as an interim administrator in a writing program.

Current work > full-time teaching, coordinator of academic advising, coordinator of special projects (advising, student services programming). "Director of Academic Advising" is the job title that would truly reflect the work I do as a fac coordinator, an admin position that has been on hold due to budget/dept re-org for two years.

Career goals > assistant dean (student affairs/services) in three+ years; I would like to end career as a dean or vice president -- at this time, remaining in the community college system is appealing.

Personal > moving to NYC in three or so years, need to be marketable. I've sent out a few apps to dip my toe in, haven't garnered any interviews for student services/affairs jobs. I could also stay here and commute by train, but a job in NYC metro area/northern NJ is a saner option.

Situation/THE BIG QUESTION > anticipate no openings for at least 10+ years at the assistant dean level at current CC (everyone is about my age and people tend to stay forever and ever). I've been offered the position of director of transfer services -- I like the work of the position and am (I think) prepared to take it on. But, I don't know if a director position is a "step down" from the direction I want to move OR if it's a first and good step toward my goals. I'm not worried about a prestigious job title, I want to make a smart move in looking to be on the market in several years. I know 45 isn't "old," or so I'm told, but I'm terrified of making a mistake that derails my plans/mobility.

Etc > salary would work out, though I'll need to teach one course a semester. I can return to current faculty position at any time. I worked 8am-5pm for almost two decades prior to college, I do worry about losing my (relative) freedom but usually put in 70 hours+ with grading; I actually find the life of a faculty member lonely and often miss the daily office environ. But still . . .

Misc Rambling > I always thought I'd be an academic dean (and I probably would be within two years at my current place, I'm an "heir apparent") and it's been tough to admit that my passions now lie elsewhere. I thought I'd be delirious with joy when I accomplished faculty promo, tenure, and had an academic dean job on the horizon ... ah, the ironies of life!


Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions-community-college-dean/ask-administrator-directorship-dead-end#ixzz1zVHWv2LI
Inside Higher Ed
 
I actually enjoyed reading something that looked like it came from a student.

I don't see why this person would have a problem making the pitch that ze was ready for a management job at the PRESENT college. Ze might have been hired with that in mind, given this odd resume. What puzzles me is why an academic hot shot (I back calculate a Lit PhD at age 26 or 27 assuming 3 or 2 years in a CC faculty job) followed that initial career trajectory with college president as a goal. Initial job market problems?

If I am correct, the writer was hired at the Assoc level by being given credit for previous admin jobs in academia but is just finishing up a 2nd year of actual classroom teaching. Most academic deans have taught a lot more than that, just so they have seen enough of what goes on before facing those issues across a larger part of the college. However, since DD is a youngish exception to that pattern, his advice should be heeded. In addition to the experience he points out that you need, one advantage you might have is your knowledge of the classroom. That seems less common on the "student affairs" side of the house.

PS -
My experience is that the goal of most college presidents is to retire into a tenured faculty position with a very light teaching load rather than being president until they reach an advanced age.
 
Most likely the letter was posted from some sort of text editor that did not insert paragraph or text in html and read by a text editor that did not automatically translate them.

Anyhow, best advice is screw the new position and get tenure or if you accept the position only do so on being given tenure. Of course, since the interaction btw the faculty department and the admin play into both, the writer may be screwed or golden, pick one
 
Greetings, I am the correspondent.

I do know how to write paragraphs! CCD asked permission to cut and paste from an email message I had formatted as bullet points, thus the formatting problem. Apologies that it caused so much consternation and thank you, Katharine, for re-formattting in the thread.

Thanks for the input and questions. A few clarifications: I have been teaching for 12 years, seven as a TT faculty (two years at a university and five at current community college). I go up for tenure in seven months.

I serve as a kind of ad hoc advising director at my college. It's a long story, I'm happy to delve into it by request. I also have about 16 years of corporate/k-12 admin experience under my belt.

I know that I'm moving to NYC in a few years because my partner lives in Manhattan. We've had a commuter relationship for several years and it will be time to make one household in three-four years. I live in central New Jersey, about 65 miles away and hour+ by train.

I have no illusions that NYC institutions will be hankering after me in a few years, but it would be nice not to have a burdensome commute to work.

I'm not an academic superstar. I earned my Ph.D. when I was 39 years-old; I'm a very good teacher (at least according to evals, such as they are)and have successfully taken on a lot of special projects. I'm a fair-to-middling academic writer, but have not published enough to move back to a university.

Regards, Ms. Correspondent
 
Although not common, it also isn't rare to move into student services from a faculty position. There are some pluses that one brings through having a faculty perspective into student services. On the other hand, you do still need to get the background in student services because there is a knowledge base there and because you will need that in order to be seen as legitimate in the student services world outside of your own institution. My thought is that most of the time that this kind of move is made it is at one's current institution.

So, moving into transfer student services would be seen by some as being a student affairs position, especially if you report to a student affairs dean or VP. I think you need to do some other things to help you with qualifications for a move. Join NASPA and/or ACPA and at least one of the state divisions of these institutions. Go to a workshop or two for aspiring chief student affairs officers (NASPA offers one every other year). Become involved in the leadership of the organizations; this is often relatively easy to break into at the state level. Put on some workshops for faculty and staff and students on student issues involved in transfer. Put together some academic/student affairs partnerships at your current institution, especially around important issues (retention, graduation, etc.)

Finally, I would urge you to get tenure. You are so close, tenure is such a big deal for an academic, and, who knows, you may still want to become an academic dean and so tenure is important. Its also important if you can work toward full professorship since you will still be teaching.

Good luck with your plan, as much for your personal life as your academic life!
 
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