Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ask the Administrator: Should I Run for Chair?

A new correspondent writes:

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.

Good luck!

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.