• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

Ask the Administrator: Am I Ready?

Moving up the ranks.

December 15, 2017
 
 

A new correspondent writes:

I have been working at a medium-sized, multi-campus community college district in flyover country for a decade. After years as a full-time faculty member, attaining tenure in a social science discipline and performing years of service in our faculty senate, curriculum development, various committees (even chairing a significant committee), I developed interest in coming up through the faculty ranks and going into academic administration. My goal was to aim for a Dean of Instruction position after two three-year terms as a department chair, and I’ve received a lot of encouragement from both faculty and administration.  To make sure it was the right fit for me, I just completed my first year as a multi-discipline department chair. I’ve been handling budgets, scheduling, faculty and student complaints, hiring and evaluations, shared governance, faculty leadership, and teaching a much-reduced load. I’ve taken advantage of professional development funds to pursue This kind of work really appeals to the way my mind works, as much as I enjoy the classroom, and it confirmed that my choice to make the jump into pseudo-administration wasn’t completely incompatible with my personality, skills, and values.

So, due to retirements and restructuring, several Dean of Instruction positions are opening up and I’ve gotten many encouragements to apply. My conventional wisdom says to wait until I’ve completed at least one three-year Chair term. I feel that I need to “prove myself” more and put in the time. I’m aware that this is a very gendered opinion and that while women are often promoted on their merits and experience, men are often promoted more on their potential.

Any advice on whether I should apply for a Dean of Instruction position when it seems to be too early in my career? Any other advice for faculty interested in going over “to the dark side” of administration?


I’ve mentioned before a key moment in grad school. I was angst-ing about whether my dissertation was really finished, or it needed still more revision. The following exchange with my roommate clarified matters:

RM: How many chapters do you have?

Me: Five.

RM: How many do you need?

Me: Well, five…

RM: Turn it in. Make them tell you what’s wrong with it.

He was right. I turned it in, and my advisor immediately set up a defense. It isn’t perfect, by any stretch, but it has the undeniable virtue of being done.

The same is true of job applications. Postings will usually specify “minimum” and “preferred” qualifications.  “Minimum” is supposed to mean that you won’t even be considered if you don’t have it; “preferred” means it might help, but it isn’t required.  If there’s a job you want and you meet the “minimum” requirements, I don’t see any reason not to apply. Make them tell you what’s wrong with it.

Admittedly, this strategy involves risking rejection. But if you don’t have a reasonably thick skin, you really shouldn’t go into administration. Just treat each interview as an opportunity to learn about another college and get better at interviewing.  If an offer materializes, great.

In my experience both as a dean and supervising deans, I’ve never found age or experience beyond a certain minimum to be terribly predictive of performance.  Other qualities matter much more. Contexts vary, but generally, the best deans have excellent communication skills, poise under pressure, a dedication to the mission of the college, and a strong academic sense. More time in a department chair role may help a little with developing a sense of which conflicts to escalate and which to defuse, but you may very well already have it.  And fire in the belly goes a long way.

Rather than scrutinizing yourself, I’d recommend finding out what you can about the places you might apply and the realities of the jobs.  Self-awareness, as opposed to self-scrutiny, can help you determine which ones are likely to be good fits.  Then, with the jobs that appeal to you, take a shot.  Make them tell you what’s wrong.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, what do you think?  Should she start applying, or should she wait until a second term as chair?

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

 

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