So today marks the start of my sixth year as department chair (and the end of my fifth month blogging about being a chair). In those five, relatively short years I’ve weathered an environmental disaster that forced the department to relocate for an entire academic year, one staff resignation, two faculty resignations, severe budget cuts that required finding a way to avoid having a staff member fired, and a massive, rushed curricular overhaul. And of course I’ve seen the usual slew of grade disputes, student complaints, faculty meltdowns, and broken photocopiers. Oh, and I got stuck on the elevator once.
And yet I still enjoy my job. I love that everyday is different from the one before it. I like that I’m still close enough to faculty, students, and the classroom to be closely connected to the mission of the university. I also attribute my job satisfaction to several other factors–some the result of good fortune, others the result of deliberate strategies.
To begin with, I work with good people. I inherited a strong, collegial department. In the past five years, to name only a few accomplishments, my faculty have published books and articles, served constructively on college and university committees, and taught a writing intensive curriculum in survey courses that enroll as many as 75 students. This past spring one received a Fulbright and two others were awarded a prestigious humanities grant. It is my good fortune to lead such a talented group.
Okay, but before you decide I’ve become a complete Pollyanna, I can tell you that everything is not always rosy. The same faculty that delight me can also sometimes stress me out. And there is never enough money in my budget. And sometimes they don’t come to fix the photocopier soon enough. So I have strategies. Here are a few of them.
1. Restraint. No email checking after 6pm. No good can come of this. I’m a department chair, not a brain surgeon. There are rarely emergencies. Anything that happens on my email after 6pm can wait until the next morning.
2. Sweating. I know that the best cure for the anxiety and stress that this job sometimes involves is to go for a long, sweaty run. Nothing restores my mental health more quickly.
3. Blogging. When I started this blog a few months ago, I did so because I wanted to turn my work as an academic chair to a new constructive purpose. Thinking and writing about my experiences has been a tool for professional development and expanded my professional networks. I also hold the hope that it has been useful for others.
4. Cake. I’m not kidding. As a friend’s tumblr account about academic kindnesses recently reminded me, cake makes everything better. I often bring donuts to the office for no reason.
So as I enter my sixth year as chair and the blog enters its sixth month of existence I will continue to hope for a year that doesn’t include upheaval (knowing full well I won’t get it) and will continue my quest for strategies, perspectives, knowledge, and the occasional donut that will keep this job fresh.