Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Little Victories

Last week’s article on Thinking Like an Administrator reminded me of my favorite metaphor to describe the difference between faculty life and administrative life: faculty are sprinters, and administrators are distance runners.  

I noticed the difference when I made the switch.  On the faculty side, you live and die by the academic calendar.  (I’m referring here to faculty who mostly teach, as opposed to those who mostly do research.  I’ve been the former but not the latter.)  That means you ride the wave of the semester.  Every semester builds to a predictable crescendo, and then stops.  You try to catch your breath before the next one, and the cycle begins again.  Classes have discrete beginnings and endings, which offer the mixed blessings of deadlines.

On the administrative side, you’re juggling multiple calendars at the same time, each with its own rhythm.  That means you can’t commit fully to any single rhythm.  Some projects take a semester or two.  Some take a few weeks.  Some take years.  Some are on the academic year, some on the state fiscal year (July to June), and some on the federal fiscal year (October to September).  Urgent crises erupt when they erupt, throwing a monkey wrench into the whole thing. In this role, you’re seldom the smartest person in the room on a given topic, so you learn to pick your spots.  And despite the org chart, you’re actually much less “in charge” with a typical administrative project than with a typical class.  That introduces more variables, both in terms of scheduling and prioritizing.

Because there’s less of a clear rhythm, you can have extended stretches during which most of what you’re working on is in a formative stage.  It’s easy to get demoralized during those stretches, since you’re working furiously, but without much to show for it.

Then you score some little victories, and the world is right again.

This week has brought a few of those little victories, and they couldn’t have come at a better time.  Each was long-germinating, and each was that pure kind of win-win that doesn’t require anyone to lose.  Coming back-to-back like that -- literally on the same morning -- they’re good for the soul.

Without betraying any confidences, one is a really thoughtful course proposal that could save time, money, and frustration for a significant number of students who place into developmental classes.  And the other is a community partnership that seems finally to be moving from the “we should really do something” stage to the “here’s a plan” stage.  It’s a great plan, and a partnership that makes tremendous sense for both sides.

The timing is even better.  April is always tough, since all of the committees that require faculty participation suddenly hear the clock ticking and realize that they have to get everything in.  The rubber chicken circuit is in full swing, too, so an already busy calendar just gets slammed.  When you’re in the weeds like that, a few small victories mean a lot.  They provide a reminder that progress actually happens.

It does.  I needed that.