Sunday, September 02, 2012

A dean's apologia

Stanley Fish's 2004 essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the life of a university leader. Fish was Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I don't agree with everything in the essay, but it's worth reading.
What Did You Do All Day?

By Stanley Fish

Of the many complaining questions that faculty members ask, the one I used to hear most often was, "Why do you administrators make so much more money than we do?" The answer is simple: Administrators work harder, they have more work to do, and they actually do it.

Now that I have made the passage back from administrator to faculty member, I know how true that is. Where before my calendar was crowded and even double-booked, now the largely empty pages beckon me forward to a life of comparative ease and downright leisure. Sure, I have some students to teach, and some papers to correct, and I chair a committee and go to a few meetings and write columns and essays; but I did all of that when I was a dean in addition to everything I did because I was a dean.

I was responsible for a college with close to 30 departments and units, a budget of $50- to $55-million, 400 tenure-track faculty members, 700 staff employees, 10,000 undergraduates, 2,000 graduate students, and 17 buildings. On any given day, I had to deal with disciplinary proceedings, tenure and promotion cases, faculty searches, chair searches, enrollment problems, fund raising, community outreach, alumni relations, public relations, curriculum reform, counteroffers, technology failures, space allocation, information systems, department-head meetings, advisory-committee meetings, dean's-council meetings, meetings with the provost, student complaints, faculty complaints, parent complaints, taxpayer complaints.

Office hours were 8:30 a.m. to whenever and often extended into the evenings and weekends. Vacations were few and far between (although I did take much of the summer off, per agreement before I was hired). The pressure never let up.

The burden of those duties has now been lifted, and I come and go as I please. No one checks up to see where I am and what I am doing. I could, if I were asked, give the all-purpose, expected, and perfectly acceptable answer: "I always work at home."

... As an academic, you're trying to get ahead, she said, but as an administrator you're trying "to make things happen for other people." You're "not advancing your own profile," she added, "but advancing the institution, and you're more service-oriented."

"When I was a faculty member," she recalled, "I used to see administrators as adversaries who had the power to give and take but whose work lacked substance and intellectual interest. Now I think that what professors do is quaint and nice and should continue to go on, but basically they live a life that is infantilizing; administrators are grown-ups."

... [Administrators] have come to appreciate a form of activity that is at once intellectual (albeit in another tone) and productive of real results. They are pleased that they have learned to work together in a coordinated effort to solve extraordinarily complex problems. They are happy to be grown-ups and to have put away childish things, and they cast a rueful eye on the children whose wayward energies they must channel and manage.

Meanwhile (and this is where we began), they are paid well. But, of course, they pay a price, not only in the long hours and exhausting days, but also in the lost opportunity to pursue the projects for which they would have been rewarded by the academic community they serve.


David Coughlin said...

You should tag this with 'human capital' as well. This -osis [-ology?] is in any job where the tally man doesn't tally the bananas when the daylight comes. I'll caveat with a maybe that, small teams at startups also don't have this problem. Somewhere in the scaling from 3 to 300, though ...

MtMoru said...

Fish is a poster boy for shutting down humanities depts.

He has absolutely no idea what real life is like or what work is.

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