Wednesday, May 17, 2017


How to...

“What advice would you give to one who would like to move into CC admin from 4-year teaching?”

An interlocutor asked me that on Twitter earlier this week.  It’s a great, if tricky, question.

The first thought would be to gain some sort of administrative experience where you are, even if it’s only partial.  Department chair would be an obvious place to start, since it draws on many of the same skills.  If that’s not an option, for whatever reason, you could look at leading task forces, working on accreditation reports, or doing something else that crosses department lines and shows the skills of collaboration, detail management, and diplomacy.  There’s often no shortage of tasks like that for those who are willing to step up.

In my own case, my first foray into administration involved volunteering to take on the local accreditation self-study.  While it didn’t involve managing people directly, it did give me a bird’s eye view of the institution, and it required me to work with people - both faculty and administration - I normally wouldn’t.  Egos had to be massaged, conflicting perspectives had to be balanced, and deadlines had to be met.  

It’s one thing to switch sectors, and another to switch roles.  Doing both at once is a major shift.  One at a time is likelier to work, and likelier to prepare you well to do a good job.  Some people manage to do well with radical shifts, but they tend to be identified as stars from the outset.

The skills involved in administration are subtly different than the ones involved in teaching.  Both require intelligence and communication skills, of course.  In my own experience, having done both, I can report that teaching is more of a solo sport and administration is more of a team sport.  Alternately, it’s the difference between sprinting and distance running.  Teaching is a series of sprints; you spend relatively little time in class or on the track, but while you’re there, you have to be fully there.  You’re “on” the entire time.  Administration is distance running: most meetings are less intense than teaching a class, but you have a lot more of them.  You’re on campus a lot more.  You have to be willing to act on partial information, to settle for second-best (or third-best) solutions, and to swallow your own opinions for the good of the team, at least sometimes.  

If you can show some history in roles with similar requirements, you’ll be a more compelling candidate.

One challenge, as you move up the ladder, is maintaining the idealism and vision that motivated you at the outset, even while slogging through the compromises and administrivia that come with the jobs.  The victories in administrative roles tend to be vicarious, rather than personal or direct.  For example, just this week Brookdale and Georgian Court had the official kickoff of their partnership at the Hazlet location.  That partnership will allow students in the bayshore area who don’t want to leave home to get four-year degrees, and even master’s degrees, while staying local.  The genesis of that was a conversation a couple of years ago, which led to a series of subsequent discussions, meetings, negotiations, and arrangements.  The payoff will accrue to the faculty and students who take advantage of the opportunity.  I take some satisfaction in knowing that I had an early part to play, but it’s not mine; it’s a collaboration that only works when nobody overshadows it.  If you can take satisfaction in those moments, these jobs can be very satisfying.  But if you need the instant feedback of a class, it won’t give you that; in fact, the first response to many administrative tasks is negative.  Comes with the gig.

The other major challenge is coming to terms with all of the constraints within which decisions are made.  From the outside, it’s often easy to criticize actual decisions when contrasted when imagined ideal outcomes.  But when you know why those ideals have to be imaginary, and you have to maneuver within much narrower confines than you might have imagined, you start to understand the “why” behind some patterns.  That can be frustrating, but if you treat it as a series of puzzles, it can be fun.  Any idiot can get good results with infinite resources and discretion, but how can you improve results with flat funding, contradictory policies, and prickly personalities?  That’s where the challenge comes in.

If you actually enjoy that kind of work, prove it.  If you think you might, give it a try.  Administration is not for everyone, but if you have the right outlook, motivation, and temperament, you can make a difference for a lot of people who won’t ever know you did it.  Good luck!

I do trust all of the concepts you’ve presented on your post. They’re really convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are too brief for newbies. May you please extend them a little from subsequent time?Also, I’ve shared your website in my social networks.
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Before you decide to make the switch from teaching to administration, you should probably consider the negative sides of being an administrator.

For one, you don’t have tenure when you are an administrator. You serve at the pleasure of the dean, the provost, or the president, and you can be fired at any time for any reason, or even for no reason at all. For this reason, you might be wise to insist on retaining a tenured position in your department before you make the switch to administration, just so that you have something to fall back on if your administrative job gets too rough, if money gets too tight, or if too many higher-ups get pissed at you.

As an administrator, you will probably have to deal with continual budget cuts, where in each quarter or semester you will be forced to do more and more with less and less. You will have to deal with angry faculty members, who are upset at not getting any raises as well as having to pay more for their medical benefits and having to pay higher deductibles and copays.

With each passing month, you will find that you are thinking less and less like an academic, and more and more like a corporate executive, where everything gets reduced to an issue about money.

You will probably have to spend a lot of time in strictly ceremonial duties, where you spend so much time on the rubber chicken circuit that your family will forget what you look like.

You will have to enforce every silly rule or regulation forced on your institution by the accreditors, by the government, or by the deans. When your faculty members come to see you, it is usually to complain about various irritants, and there is probably very little you can do about them . You will find that you are responding to these complaints by spouting slogans and platitudes, where your faculty members will probably feel that they are talking to a bumper sticker. Pretty soon, your faculty members will start regarding you as the enemy, and some will even start to hate you. If this happens, it will be time to bail.

You need to make sure that you don’t embarrass your institution by making any awkward public pronouncements or by making any improper tweets. As an administrator, you have no academic freedom, and if you become an embarrassment, you can be quickly thrown under the bus.

Can you deal with all this? If so, an increased salary and the possibility of future advancement and promotion may be attractive to you.

My recommendation would be to come up with a clear and convincing answer to the most obvious question: "Why?".

The answer needs to be good enough to convince yourself that it is a good, long-term decision and it needs to be even better to convince the search committee (for some level jobs) or the hiring authority (for lower level jobs) to take you on. At that point, all of Dean Dad's suggestions are good ones. You need experience, and you need to avoid making "The One Thing Never to Say" mistakes along the way.

Have you looked at advertised positons, or even the position descriptions (and salary) for currently-filled jobs that haver your attention, both where you currently work or a nearby CC or within commuting distance? How about nationally or regionally? That will tell you if you are even qualified for the jobs you seek.

There really isn't enough information in the tweet to give more specific advice. Are you leaving a tenured position? That is quite a risk, as noted above. Even senior people get fired on a whim when a new President or Provost (or both) gets hired every three to five years. Buying a home is not advisable. And if you are not in a tenured position, your status as a long-term contract professor or denied-tenure assistant professor does not match up well with jobs on the academic side of administration unless you have proven skills dealing with outcomes assessment or other accreditation-related bureaucratic necessities or perhaps distance learning programs that got in the way of promotion at your current university.

Remember that taking a step down in prestige (in your view) offers no guarantee that you will be viewed favorably by that school. There are more budget constraints at CCs, so you could do better looking a universities that are more prestigious than your current school. They are the ones getting budget increases to fund all sorts of student success (tutoring or advising) or research success (probably not relevant to your situation) or athletic success (tutoring and babysitting) initiatives.

What is your field? For some areas, like the social sciences, you might already have the qualifications for some jobs on the student services side of the operations at your university or a CC if, and it could be a big if, there are openings at an appropriate entry level nearby. For others, the relevant skills you might have will not help if you don't have the experience and/or degree required.

What are your salary expectations? I am well aware of the fact that tenured faculty at some 4-year teaching schools make less than faculty at CCs, but most CC administrative jobs pay less than any faculty position. Getting entry-level experience on the alt-ac side of the house could be "expensive" unless you can do it without moving. Only upper-level jobs, ones that require experience, pay more. Most staff positions at my CC pay less than the local median wage. Private businesses may offer better opportunities!
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