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?”
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.