Tuesday, June 25, 2013

From Adjunct to Administration?

In response to yesterday’s post about a thin bench for leadership roles at community colleges, Lee Skallerup Bessette mentioned on Twitter that plenty of people with leadership potential and interest are stuck in the ranks of the adjuncts, because they haven’t been able to get that first foot in the door.  She suggested ACE fellowships for adjuncts, so they could get the experience to be taken seriously as administrative candidates.

I’ve been chewing on the idea ever since.

We’d have to clarify what “administrative role” means.  I don’t see someone without full-time higher ed experience moving directly into senior ranks, for example.  Too much would be new, and it would be entirely too easy to fall into some predictable traps.

But a midtier role?  I could see it.  In fact, I’ve hired that way -- the new dean of Business and STEM on my campus, whom I hired, came from the adjunct ranks.  That said, she did bring quite a bit of industry experience, which is helpful in that division.  And when she was in the adjunct ranks, she took it upon herself to establish a speakers’ series on campus, bringing successful local businesspeople to talk to students.  That made an impression.

Administrative and staff roles in other areas of the college, such as student affairs, also tend not to require experience as full-time faculty.  Some level of teaching experience can be helpful, though, particularly in areas like academic advising.  Knowing what faculty are dealing with can help in working with students who are trying to find their way in unfamiliar territory.

In some ways, the value of something like an ACE fellowship program for adjuncts might be in depolarizing some of the discourse.  To the extent that a college looks like a black box, it’s easy to hurl demands at it and draw conclusions when those demands aren’t met.  But if you see how the sausage is made, you learn quickly that it isn’t that easy.  That’s not to say that this is the best of all possible worlds, by any means; it’s in hopes that a serious confrontation with the issues at hand might lead to some better ideas.  That has been the subtext of this blog pretty much from the beginning, but local contexts differ in important ways.  

In any event, it’s becoming clear that colleges are going to have to become less rigid in their hiring patterns.  That can be difficult when you hire by committee.  Committees have their virtues, but they do tend to favor less risky choices.  I tend to believe that if the status quo is proving unsustainable, then the safe choice is, by definition, unsafe.  But that remains a minority view.  Getting entire committees to look at non-traditional candidates is harder than getting individuals to do it.  When committee dynamics are compounded by an acute awareness of litigiousness, the temptation to flee to safety is strong.  Folks coming in from the cold will have a heavy burden of proof, perhaps more so than they should.

Wise and worldly readers, do you see potential in some sort of embedded or shadowing program in which adjuncts could see the workings of administration up close?  Or is this just too far afield?