How Much Longer?

I just returned from a conference.  This time it was not a professional development opportunity for academic chairs, but rather a conference where I presented on my own area of research.  It was a welcome chance to recharge my scholarly batteries (more in a future post on trying to be an administrator and a researcher–it can be done!).  While there many colleagues asked a familiar question: “so how much longer are you chair?”  File:Kitchen timer.jpg

This question was usually accompanied by a sympathetic tone and facial expression.  Yet sympathy shifted to incredulity when I revealed that (1) I have two more years and (2) I’m enjoying myself.

Well, not all the time.  But most of the time, I am, due to a combination of circumstance and deliberate decision-making.  The circumstances are such that I have great departmental  colleagues and inherited a department culture where most everyone participates, steps up, and is committed to teaching and research.  We are not without our problems, but we are not dysfunctional or factionalized.

It is my good fortune, then, to benefit from these circumstances.  But that is only part of why I enjoy my role as department chair.  I made a conscious decision when I pondered becoming chair that I would pursue some specific objectives–with the participation and input of my colleagues, certainly.  But I intended to lead, and not simply manage.  I have written about this distinction previously.  Aside from having a personal preference for this style of chairing, I also think it is most of why I enjoy what I’m doing.  Managing–be it paperwork or other parts of the university’s bureaucratic behemoth–is necessary, but if it was all I did, I would be very unhappy.  Thinking about the future of the department and its programs and curriculum, fostering the research aspirations of my faculty, and investigating and implementing innovative pedagogy, are the objectives that animate my days and keep the management tasks from devolving into sheer drudgery.

I will admit to being unusual and inclined towards administrative work, but I do think there is a lesson here for those among us who take a turn as chair, perhaps out of a sense of duty or obligation, and not as a vocation.  Deciding to lead, and not simply manage, is just one way (I welcome your comments on other possibilities) to elevate the role of chair and make it something that can be enjoyable.

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8 thoughts on “How Much Longer?

  1. Your friends have always known you have a true talent for administration, and for leadership! Your colleagues–faculty AND administrators–and your students are so fortunate to have you.

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  2. I get this question a lot, too, and while I am anticipating the end of my last two years rather more than what you express, I do not hate being chair. My department is fantastic, too, and that helps a lot. My research has really taken a hit, however. When I started as chair 4 years ago, the former chair had been in place for 25 years, so no one knew how anything worked when he retired, and all but two of my colleagues (both who had other administrative duties) were junior faculty or brand new hires. It’s gotten better because we now have associate profs and I actually know what I can delegate. So, while I am not as productive as I would like in terms of my own work, I take a lot of satisfaction in overseeing tenures, promotions and sabbaticals (and fighting the fight with the administration). In fact, almost all of the department will be tenured under my watch. In my last year, I will train, actually train, my successor, and we will have the first “peaceful” transition to a new chair in living memory. I do think that almost everyone should take a turn. There are folks who would just be too toxic, but they should then be given some other large chunk of work. But if everyone knew they would be chair at some point, that would make for more departments that function well, like yours and mine. It might also lead to more training. We have no training as chairs, not even a handbook!

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    1. The admin/research balance is tricky. I’ve managed to do some research–mostly because I also made a conscious decision when I became chair that I wasn’t going to take a 7-year hiatus from it.

      Training for chairs? What a novel idea! But seriously, I’m glad you’re going to take the time to prepare your successor. In the absence of handbooks and training, there should be more of that.

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      1. Wow, you have a 7 year term? We have 3 years, and now the Dept has a rule that no one can do more than two consecutive terms, to force the sharing. Are you going to do a post on chair’s renumeration? Seems I cannot spell that – perhaps because of what I get!

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      2. two terms: first is four, then three if you re-up, which I did.

        remuneration should definitely be the topic of a post.

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    1. I definitely want to do one. But I’d like to wait until I have more chairs following the blog so that we can really survey and examine the variety that I’m sure exists.

      So spread the word among your chair friends! 🙂

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